Prompt investigation, fact-finding and facilitation of harassment/discrimination complaints increases the likelihood of resolving a problem while avoiding serious litigation costs. When organizations contract investigation to trained neutrals who are accepted as unbiased by all parties, there is a dramatic increase in the resolution of harassment-related complaints. The organization is assured of fulfillment of its responsibilities, and is provided with a comprehensive and defensible report.
In the 1960's, a large group of children were physically, sexually and spiritually abused while in a residential school. In about 1990, a group of about ten of these children, now adults, approached the agency which had sponsored and staffed the school, for redress and assistance with healing measures. The agency initially worked with this group of victims to design a process of mediation and intervention.
Dr. Edmund and Mr. Stearns were appointed to a five-person professional committee which mediated between the group of affected victims and the agency. Our task was to maintain a confidential “wall” between the parties, but to hear and compile the complaints, to assess their credibility, to summarize later effects of the abuse injuries, and to recommend measures to the sponsoring agency. All contact between the parties occurred through the mediating committee during this assessment phase.
Upon finding that abuse had occurred, the mediation committee worked with both parties to design and lead a healing process. This involved a four-day multi-facetted retreat, attended by former residents of the school and by representatives of the sponsoring agency. The focus was on narration of events, mourning of impact, apology, and renewal of relationships. With such a large group, the healing potential of this retreat varied greatly, but most participants described increased understanding, insight, and willingness to deal with their own issues rather than engaging in wide and public dispute. No legal suits resulted from this process, although several had been initiated prior to the mediation.
Four women were sexually harassed in the early 1970’s by their male supervisor in an employment setting. As was the standard in that time period, the supervisor was asked to resign, but no disciplinary action was taken and no assistance was offered to the female employees. Within three years, all of the victims had left the company.
In 1995, by happenstance, the four women encountered each other and began to process their victimization together. They decided to approach their former employer with a request for counselling assistance. When they did this, the employer (now staffed by different individuals with no knowlege of the 1970 events) refused, and accused them of financial motive.
The women, having agreed among themselves not to use legal/adversarial methods, requested mediation with the former employer. Dr. Edmund and Mr. Stearns approached the C.E.O. of the company. After some discussions with the entire board, it was decided that the C.E.O. and several colleagues would be willing to enter mediation with the four women.
Initial sessions were held for fact-finding with each party, and the situation was summarized in writing for the parties. Preparation of the parties included information and coaching regarding mediation purposes, format and listening behaviour. One all-day mediation was held with several components: two-party sessions, one-party caucus, mediator consultation. An agreement was reached, signed by all parties, which provided the harassment victims with access to a counselling fund administered by the vice-president for personnel, an individual trusted by all primary parties. One-year follow-up indicated very good compliance with the agreement, and the renewal of positive relationships among the parties.