Alternative Dispute Resolution (ADR) Program resolves civil rights complaints
By Dane Keehn, City of Seattle Alternative Dispute Resolution
(ADR) Program Coordinator
One of the options available to people when they file complaints
with the Seattle Office for Civil rights (SOCR) is mediation services from
the City of Seattle’s Alternative Dispute Resolution (ADR) program.
In this option, the person who believes s/he has experienced discrimination
meets with the alleged offending party, and with the help of two mediators,
attempts to resolve the complaint.
This alternative to the investigative process is very successful:
4 out of 5 times the parties successfully resolve the situation.
Who decides what success is? They do. If both sides believe they have reached
a fair, equitable, durable and just resolution, with the help of the mediators,
they record their settlement and move on with their lives. If the parties
don’t reach a resolution they both believe is fair, then the
case goes back to SOCR for a full investigation.
- The Charging parties and Respondents who have used the process say
they are satisfied with the process and would recommend it to others.
- Settlements reached are in line with those cases that go through
a full investigation and have "reasonable cause” findings.
- In addition to resolving issues with the Charging Party, Responding
Parties often voluntarily agree to include terms that benefit the public
While the ADR program has achieved much in the last year,
we are most proud of our Race and Social Justice accomplishments. In order
to help achieve the Mayor’s goal to end institutionalized racism in
City government and create a community that is enriched by its diverse cultures,
the ADR program has pushed in two directions: diversification and training.
Diversifying the field
People of color have been underrepresented in the Seattle
mediator field since the mediation movement began to blossom in the 1980s.
The need for any City work-place program to have an employee population
base roughly paralleling the diversity in the general population shouldn’t
need defending. But in the case of a program specifically working on resolving
disputes involving racial tension, the need for diversity is imperative.
In order for a mediation team to be effective, clients must believe that
the mediators are impartial, and that they are fully able to relate to them
and the issues most important in their lives.
Through recruitment, training and mentoring efforts over the last two years,
the racial makeup of our mediator pool now more closely matches the racial
make up of the population of Seattle. When the ADR program began mediating
SOCR cases in 2004, we had no people of color in the mediator pool used
for these cases. By the end of 2005, we had about 10% people of color. And
by the end of 2006, we had 28% people of color. Those numbers have already
gone up a bit in 2007 as we continue our efforts.
Training for City of Seattle employees and mediators
The ADR program insures that there are conflict resolution
trainings for City employees throughout the year. In addition to this standard
training, last October the ADR program presented a unique forum theater
/ training on dealing with racial tensions and conflict, attended by more
than one hundred City employees. The forum was a huge success – the
vast majority of participants said they found it very beneficial.
Training for Mediators
In 2006 the ADR program also provided several advanced trainings
for our mediators on how to better facilitate discussion on race-related
issues. Training topics included:
- How and when to raise the issue of race when it appears to be an
unspoken undercurrent in a conflict.
- How to best sustain a useful dialogue on race.
- Understanding power dynamics
- Understanding institutional racism, white privilege, internalized
oppression and other important concepts.
Diverse, better trained mediators
We now have more diverse, better trained mediators helping
resolve SOCR discrimination charges, as well as helping City of Seattle
employees talk to one another.
The effect of our Race and Social Justice work is rippling out into the
community. After attending a day-long, ADR-sponsored training on “Understanding
Institutional Racism,” mediators for the Federal Government (including
the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission) decided to diversify their
own pools of mediators. They pulled together mediators, judges, and attorneys
from throughout the Puget Sound Region to discuss the best way to do this.
And they gained support and tentative funding from the Washington State
Bar to further their efforts.
The whole idea of the Alternative Dispute Resolution Program is to help
people have difficult conversations and talk through thorny issues. With
a better trained, more diverse group of mediators, we are now in a better
position than ever to do that. Helping citizens and employees have those
difficult conversations around race, discrimination and institutionalized
racism is one of the ingredients necessary to move us towards the Mayor’s
vision of a City government and community that is enriched by its diverse
Save the Date!
October 6, 2007
Seattle Women’s Summit
The Seattle Women’s Summit gets to the heart of issues that matter to Seattle women through dynamic workshops, facilitated discussions, and an interactive resource fair. And it gives women the skills to advocate effectively for women’s issues through trainings on communication, advocacy, and leadership. You won’t want to miss this great day!
The information shared at the Summit helps guide the Seattle Women’s Commission on its annual work plan and directly informs our policy recommendations.
Get involved! If your organization or company is interested in sponsoring or exhibiting at the Seattle Women’s Summit, please call us at (206) 684-4537 or email Felicia.Yearwood-Murrell@Seattle.gov.
Visit the Seattle Women’s Commission website at http://www.seattle.gov/womenscommission/.