An Interview with Mediator Ilida Alvarez
After you file a charge with the EEOC, the EEOC will usually ask both you and the employer to take part in their mediation program. If you and the employer both agree to mediate, then a mediation will be scheduled so that a mediator can try to help you reach a settlement. For most people, mediation seems like an intimidating process because you don’t normally mediate unless you have a divorce or are involved in some type of legal case. The mediator is a neutral party who is trained to help facilitate the negotiation of a settlement between the parties. To shed some light on the mediation process and the benefits of mediation, I asked a mediator, Ilida Alvarez, to share her thoughts on mediation and explain the process in more detail.
Preparing for Mediation
Before you go into mediation, it’s important to know what to expect and how to prepare. Ms. Alvarez recommends that parties both with and without a lawyer prepare in a similar manner by thinking about “what they want versus what they need to settle.” Ms. Alvarez also recommends that the personalities of all involved should be considered when selecting the mediator. “Sometimes, whether the mediator is male or female can make a difference and sometimes age can make a difference. Other times, you want a mediator that will push, be stern, and not as friendly, depending on the client’s personality.”
Ms. Alvarez explains that when you have an attorney, the client doesn’t see the prep work that takes place before the mediation, such as the pre-mediation statement that attorneys often provide to let her know about the facts of the case. As for the actual mediation, Ms. Alvarez explains:
“We go in almost always starting in a joint session with all the parties present. I’ll sit at the head of the table with the plaintiff’s attorney and the plaintiff on one side and the defendant’s attorney and the defendant on the other side. I will give a short presentation with an explanation on what to expect in the mediation, such as confidentiality and the fact that everything that they tell me during a private session is also private and confidential unless they tell me otherwise. Then I explain what I’m looking for from them in a mediation. During the joint session, each attorney gives their opening statement, and I allow for rebuttals. Then we usually go into a private session where we split into different rooms and I speak privately with each side and their attorney. That’s when I want the client to be able to speak more openly and freely so I can do a better job as a mediator and try to find a better resolution.”
The Benefits of Mediation Even if You Don’t Settle
In cases that mediate early on, Ms. Alvarez believes there are still many benefits to mediation. She believes that in cases involving sensitive or complicated issues such as sexual harassment, “if you can address the issues before the animosity gets to the point where the parties hate each other, you can salvage the employer-employee relationship if you get to an understanding, feel like your concerns have been addressed, and you have a hand in how that happens as opposed to having a 3rd party make that decision for you, which may not be what you really wanted.”
Ms. Alvarez believes that if the mediator does a good job,
both sides will leave unhappy because one side will pay more than they wanted to and the other side will accept less than they wanted to, but that gets us to a point where both parties can live with the result and they have a hand in the result.”
Regardless of whether you settle, mediation is beneficial. She says, “you walk out of mediation with more information than you had going in, especially if the attorneys do a good job during joint session” because each side hears the weaknesses in their case.
If you filed a charge with the EEOC and are considering mediation, you should discuss your rights with an attorney and think about having an attorney represent you at the mediation, settlement conference, or conciliation conference. If you have experienced sexual harassment or discrimination, an attorney can also help you learn more about your rights and how to prepare for mediation.