By Michael K. Browne, Assistant Director – Complaint Investigations
In a nutshell, we define “mediation” as a process in which an impartial third party assists parties in finding a mutually acceptable solution to their dispute. Recently, the department revised the mediation program to tailor it specifically towards resolving civil rights complaints filed at the City of Minneapolis. Within these changes, we adopted the following core principles to our program: voluntariness, neutrality, confidentiality, and enforceability.
We believe that the parties should agree to participate in the mediation. This thought extends not just to the initial phase of entering into the mediation process, throughout the process. Should any party wish to discontinue to the mediation, including the Mediator, they may voluntarily terminate the mediation at any time. This is critical because the ultimate goal is to reach a settlement agreement that is acceptable to the parities.
We are committed to offering willing parties an opportunity to mediate their dispute before the Charge of Discrimination is fully investigated, and will provide the parties with a “Qualified Neutral” ~ that is, a mediator who does not have a stake in the outcome of the dispute, is insulated from the investigatory process, and is on the Minnesota State Court Administrator’s Rule 114 Neutral Roster. It is important to keep in mind that the mediator is a vehicle for discussion, and has no authority to decide the civil rights matters in dispute.
We believe that confidentiality in our mediation proceedings must be maintained by the parties and the Mediator in order to foster open dialogue between the disputants. This means that the information exchanged cannot be shared with anyone outside the mediation, including the department and the investigators. It is also important to keep in mind that the terms of the settlement agreement will not be confidential unless the agreement contains a confidentiality provision and the Charge is withdrawn from the department. In accordance with Minnesota Government Data Practices Act and the Minnesota Human Rights Act, the department may not be a party to a confidential settlement agreement.
Lastly, if the parties are able to reach settlement through mediation, the mediator can help the parties draft a settlement agreement. The Settlement Agreement is similar to a contract between the parties in that it creates legal obligations between the parties, and is enforceable in court.
Why would parties want to mediate their Charge of Discrimination?
In addition to the above, mediation also offers:
• Voices to the parties ~ the parties have an equal say in the mediation process and decide the settlement terms. The Mediator will not make any material decisions in the mediation.
• Mediation occurs in the early stage of the process, and most times mediation is completed in one session. In contrast, an investigation of a Charge of Discrimination may take up to one year.
• Mediation provides a neutral setting where both parties can openly discuss the underlying issues surrounding their dispute. The Mediator will help facilitate communication between the parties.
• Mediation allows parties an opportunity to meet in an effort to try to work out the dispute. Because the parties make all the decisions, they have the ability to resolve the Charge of Discrimination immediately during the mediation process.
• None. By choosing to mediate, parties do not miss an opportunity to have the Charge of Discrimination continue along the investigatory process if their case does not settle.
A recent participant stated:
“The mediation process was a very simple process. MDCR made it extremely easy…everyone was extremely helpful.”
— Jennifer H., Complainant
Yes, mediation works!