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Alternative Dispute Resolution (ADR)

Office of Diversity and Equal Opportunity

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All agencies are required to have an alternative dispute resolution (ADR) program. The Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) has certain requirements that all agencies must follow when developing ADR programs.  The most important ADR program requirement is fairness. Generally, an ADR program is fair if it is voluntary, confidential, enforceable by the parties (if an agreement is reached), and led by a neutral person, like a mediator, who has no personal interest in the dispute.

At NASA, when parties agree to use ADR to try to resolve EEO complaints or other workplace disputes, the most common type of ADR used is mediation. Mediation is an informal meeting between the parties that is conducted by a neutral mediator. A mediator is trained to help people who have disagreements talk to each other. The mediator does not decide who is right or wrong or issue a decision. Instead, the mediator helps the parties work out their own solutions to their dispute. A mediator makes primarily procedural suggestions regarding how parties can reach agreement. Occasionally, a mediator may suggest some substantive options as a means of encouraging the parties to expand the range of possible resolutions under consideration. A mediator often works with the parties individually, in caucuses, to explore acceptable resolution options or to develop proposals that might move the parties closer to resolution.

Settlement Conference is another type of ADR used at NASA. Settlement conferences are meetings which are typically conducted by a settlement judge or referee to assist the parties in reaching a mutually acceptable settlement of the disputed matter. This is normally utilized when a case is at hearing. The role of the settlement judge is similar to that of a mediator in that the judge assists the parties procedurally in negotiating an agreement. Some judges may provide the parties with specific substantive and legal information about what the disposition of the case might be if it were to go to court or hearing. The judge may also provide the parties with possible settlement ranges for their consideration.

There are real advantages to participating in ADR.

  • ADR offers both complainant and NASA the opportunity for a fast and informal settlement of the dispute. 
  • Rather than leaving the decision to a third party, such as an EEOC Administrative Judge, ADR is an opportunity to reach an agreement that works for both parties.

Other Types of ADR

  • Ombuds: Ombuds are individuals who rely on a number of techniques to resolve disputes. These techniques include counseling, mediating, conciliating, and factfinding. Usually, when an ombud receives a complaint, s/he interviews the parties, reviews files, and makes recommendations to the disputants. The ombuds do not impose solutions. The power of the ombud lies in his/her ability to persuade the parties to accept his/her recommendations. An individual not accepting the proposed solution of the ombud is free to pursue a remedy in other forums for dispute resolution.
  • Facilitation: this involves the use of techniques to improve the flow of information in a meeting between parties to a dispute. The term facilitator is often used interchangeably with the term mediator, but a facilitator does not typically become as involved in the substantives issues as does a mediator. The facilitator focuses more on the process involved in resolving a matter. The facilitator generally works with all of the participants at once and provides procedural directions as to how the group can efficiently move through the problem-solving steps of the meeting and arrive at the jointly agreed upon goal. The facilitator focuses on procedural assistance and remains impartial to the topics under discussion.
  • Peer Review: Peer Review is a problem-solving process where an employee takes a dispute to a group or panel of fellow employees and managers for a decision. The decision is not binding on the employee, and s/he would be able to seek relief in traditional forums for dispute resolution if dissatisfied with the decision. The principal objective of peer review is to resolve disputes early before they become formal complaints. Typically, the panel consists of employees and managers who volunteer for this duty and who are trained in listening, questioning, and problem-solving skills as well as the specific policies and guidelines of the panel. A peer review panel may be a standing group of individuals who are available to address whatever disputes employees might bring to the panel at any given time. Other panels may be formed on an ad hoc basis through some selection process initiated by the employee, e.g., blind selection of a certain number of names from a pool of qualified employees and managers.
  • Fact Finding: is the use of an impartial expert (or group) selected by the parties, by the agency, or by an individual with the authority to appoint a fact finder, in order to determine what the “facts” are in a dispute. The fact finder may be authorized only to investigate or evaluate the matter presented and file a report establishing the facts in the matter. In some cases, s/he may be authorized to issue either a situation assessment or a specific procedural or substantive recommendation as to how a dispute might be resolved. If used as an ADR technique, the findings of fact must remain confidential.
  • Early Neutral Evaluation: Early Neutral Evaluation uses a neutral or an impartial third party to provide an objective evaluation, sometimes in writing, of the strengths and weaknesses of a case. Under this method, the parties will usually make informal presentations to the neutral party to highlight their respective cases or positions.

For additional information on ADR:

ADR for Supervisors
ADR for Employee

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