In the past, discrimination disputes cost thousands in lawyers’ fees and trials, not to mention the year it took to even get into court.
Now the Pennsylvania Human Relations Commission (PHRC) is offering a free mediation program so the dispute can be settled within 10 days without legal and court costs.
“What we’re trying to do is resolve complaints faster, get people back to work and save the lengthier process of an investigation that ends up potentially being costly for employers who have legal costs and for people who are either out of work or who are just facing horrible issues in their work place,” spokeswoman Shannon Powers said.
If someone decides to pursue a dispute using mediation, his or her case will go to a neutral mediator instead of an investigator.
The mediator will then sit down with both parties and try to reach a settlement offering remedies the law will allow.
Powers said the mediation option is modeled after a program created by the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC).
“The federal entity that deals with employment discrimination, the EEOC, has had a successful program in place for over 20 years,” Powers said. “We also investigate complaints on their behalf, but we have never had a formal mediation program.”
Mediation is only open to discrimination disputes that arise at work or during the job-seeking process.
This program will help the PHRC’s overburdened investigators and the court system by reducing the backlog of unresolved complaints.
Powers said it will also benefit Pennsylvania taxpayers.
“If you want to file a discrimination complaint, you come to the state, and you have to wait a year after you filed your complaint in order to go to court,” Powers said. “A number of people do then opt to go to court and the court system is also overburdened with cases, this will lighten the load of the court system as well, which is also taxpayer funded.”
Mediation is not available for complaints filed against state agencies.
If a settlement has not been reached within 10 days, the case will be handed to investigators for the normal commission procedures.
“The goal of the process is always to correct discrimination when it’s happening and to prevent it in the future and we believe that this meets that goal and serves everyone’s interests — Pennsylvania taxpayers, workers and employers,” Powers said.