Ford speeds job bias claims
Automaker adopts federal mediation process to help resolve discrimination complaints
By Eric Mayne / The Detroit News
Ford Motor Co. will become the first automaker to formally adopt a time-saving mediation process to address discrimination in the workplace.
Administered by the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission, the program employs mediation as an alternate method of resolving employee complaints about age, gender, religious, ethnic or racial discrimination on the job.
Under current procedures, complaints and investigations covered by federal equal employment opportunity laws can take up to one year to conclude.
“It’s an opportunity for the person who’s complaining — and the company — to sit down and talk,” said Jesse Vidaurri, EEOC program analyst.
In recent years, Ford has been plagued with lawsuits — most of which have been resolved — that alleged age discrimination. But the automaker said the suits played no role in its decision to make mediation a priority under the new EEOC pact.
“This is an opportunity to establish closer ties with the EEOC and provide an avenue to rapidly and appropriately address employee concerns,” said Joe Laymon, Ford’s group vice president of corporate human resources.
Laymon and EEOC Chairwoman Cari M. Dominguez will sign the agreement Friday. The EEOC has entered into about 30 similar agreements with large companies.
“Mediation is definitely becoming more prevalent,” said Alan Garber, a labor and employment lawyer in Oakland, Calif. “I’m a big fan of mediation because it saves time and cost — not to mention the emotional aspect of employment litigation.”
Ford, which receives about 100 complaints that would fall under EEOC jurisdiction annually, is no stranger to the EEOC’s mediation system. The automaker has been using it on an ad hoc basis for more than two years, mostly in southeast Michigan, said spokeswoman Kathleen Vokes.
Resolving complaints through mediation instead of investigation not only conserves EEOC resources, it generates savings for companies, Vidaurri said. When circumstances are warranted, penalties are assessed based on a company’s size.
But if workers choose mediation, they are not prevented from calling on the EEOC to launch a probe if they remain unsatisfied, Vidaurri said. In such cases, companies are also protected.