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Employment Law (Wrongful Discharge & Racial Discrimination): Pre-Trial Mediation

Issue

How did insightful mediation bring together a disgruntled employee concerned he was fired due to his race and an employer that believed poor job performance justified the termination?

What Happened?

An employer terminated an African-American employee, alleging that deficiencies in how he performed his job responsibilities warranted dismissal. The employee filed suit, claiming he had been treated differently than his Caucasian counterparts, and that his firing constituted wrongful discharge based on racial discrimination by one supervisor who only monitored his performance for two days.

Special Considerations

  • After the plaintiff lost his job, he sought professional help, which led to the discovery that he had struggled with attention deficit disorder his entire life.
  • Subsequent to the diagnosis, the plaintiff began therapy and learned how to manage his life activities around his condition.
  • By the time of the mediation, he was holding down a full-time job and training others.

How Did PREMi Help?

After nearly a year of contentious courtroom litigation, the parties submitted to mediation, which proved to be no less contentious. The PREMi mediator allowed each side to state their positions, but each side dug in and held firm to their respective allegations and assertions.

Seeing that exchange devolve, the skilled PREMi mediator recognized an opportunity to ask a question to crystalize the real dispute between the parties, transforming an abstract notion into a definitive issue.

The mediator asked the plaintiff, “What is it you want from the company?” The man looked shocked, paused for a moment, then responded, “I just want my job back,” and proceeded to tell the group how losing his job caused him to seek counseling, which led to the ADD diagnosis. He acknowledged his challenges and explained how he was navigating those obstacles to become a better person and employee. He was certain he could overcome the issues he had experienced with his former employer to again do the “job of his dreams.”

What Was the Outcome?

The PREMi mediator called for a break in the proceedings to allow the employer’s management team to confer privately. Once they returned to the table a few minutes later:

  • The defendants offered the plaintiff an opportunity to return to his old job, but at a different facility with “kinder and gentler” supervision, extra training, and resources to help him succeed.
  • The regional COO agreed to personally support the plaintiff and give him every possible means to succeed in his job.
  • A management representative who had been particularly hard on the plaintiff during the negotiation asked if the plaintiff would like to speak with another employee at the company with the same condition. The plaintiff responded with an enthusiastic “Yes!” and the representative said, “Normally, confidentiality and HIPPA would prevent me from giving you his name, but since he is my son, I’m going to anyway.”
  • At that point, several eyes moistened, and the plaintiff realized he could now trust management to treat him fairly.

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Disclaimer: This summary is illustrative of the types of cases and the manner in which the PREMI associate dealt with the matter. Care has been taken to avoid disclosure of sensitive or confidential information.