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IHS Mediation Program

Q. What is Mediation?

A: During the EEO complaint process, parties filing a complaint will be offered two opportunities to elect Alternative Dispute Resolution. One occurs during the informal counseling stage, and the other after the investigation is completed and the Report of Investigation has been issued when a formal complaint has been filed. The type of Alternative Dispute Resolution used by IHS is mediation.

Mediation is a process whereby a trained neutral party assists in resolving a dispute, or at least narrowing and clarifying issues, in a manner that is acceptable to both sides. Mediation is different than traditional litigation in that it is informal, the rules of evidence do not apply, testimony is not taken, and the mediator does not decide the dispute. The role of the mediator is to attempt to get the parties to define a resolution which is acceptable to both sides and to have the parties enter the agreed-upon terms into a Settlement Agreement which they will sign and the case will be closed. Mediation is also different from traditional negotiation in that the neutral party facilitates the discussions, sometimes with both disputants together and sometimes with each side privately.

The mediator, in effect, creates a new forum where the disputants can candidly discuss their concerns. The mediator will not reveal anything from private discussions that one side does not want revealed to the other. Thus, the mediator often will have more information, and a more complete picture of the problem, than either party alone. By virtue of this unique position, the mediator can often help identify options for agreement that were not evident before. Also, the mediator can help assess the strengths and weaknesses of each party's case and help create realistic expectations.

Q. Why Request Mediation?

A: Disputes often arise out of communication problems or sheer complexity. Traditional adjudication sometimes exacerbates disputes, unnecessarily solidifies positions, and can result in protracted and costly litigation. Mediators are trained in communication and problem-solving skills, and a session with a mediator can facilitate a constructive exchange of views and develop previously unseen alternatives.

Mediation allows you to control your dispute and resolve the problem yourself, rather than having a judge or some other official decide it for you. Mediation is also fast and economical. Even if you do not resolve the dispute, mediation frequently clarifies and narrows the issues so that litigation proceeds in a more rapid and focused manner.

People sometimes avoid mediation because they confuse it with compromise. Requesting mediation does not mean you wish to compromise. It means you are interested in talking in a confidential setting to determine whether the problem can be resolved without litigation. You retain control. You need not agree to anything that you do not believe is in your best interest.

Q. Will Mediation Speed up Resolving Disputes?

A: Yes. It is an informal process to resolve disputes and does not require the legal or formal process that can result in administrative processing delays. Normally, mediation will be completed in a matter of weeks as opposed to possibly months or years. If you reach a satisfactory resolution, your agreement will be recorded in a Settlement Agreement and signed by all parties. If mediation is not successful in resolving your complaint, however, you have lost no rights. Your complaint will be processed in accordance with the EEOC's regulations at 29 Code of Federal Regulations Part 1614.

Q. Who Are the Mediators?

A: Mediators in these cases are attorneys and conflict management specialists from the Departmental Appeals Board, Shared Neutrals, and private Contract Mediators. In addition, the EEOC provides mediators who can contribute EEO expertise to the program. The Mediators have special mediation training and considerable practical experience.

Q. What Cases Are Eligible for Mediation?

A: Any allegation of employment discrimination in either the informal or formal stage is eligible for mediation.

Q. Who Can Initiate Mediation?

Any IHS employee, former employee, or applicant who has filed an informal or formal EEO complaint may request mediation.

Q. What About Confidentiality?

A: Mediators are strictly prohibited from discussing cases with anyone outside of the mediation process. This is designed to assure that no one who might be involved in a possible later adjudication will have any knowledge of what happened during mediation. Also, nothing from the mediation process will be added to the record. The Administrative Dispute Resolution Act of 1996 has confidentiality assurances at Section 574 that apply in IHS mediations.