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The Commission works with parties to resolve complaints by agreement whenever possible. This is done informally through a process called conciliation or formally through mediation.
The Commission is charged by statute with attempting to resolve complaints by conciliation/agreement. The Administrative Law Examiner (ALE) investigating the complaint will work with interested parties to settle the matter during the investigation. If an agreement is reached, the ALE will draft it and obtain signatures of all parties.
If the complaint proceeds to investigation and the Commissioners find reasonable grounds to believe that discrimination occurred, the staff will make further conciliation attempts for up to four months before asking the Commissioners to make a determination about whether to file an action in the public interest in court.
In 1998, the Vermont Human Rights Commission instituted a Mediation Program to provide professional mediators at no cost to parties to assist them in resolving their cases in a mutually acceptable manner. If the Commission's staff determines that a case is appropriate for mediation, it sends the parties information about mediation with an invitation to participate in the mediation program. Mediation is entirely voluntary, it will not take place unless both parties agree to it. If the parties elect to participate in mediation, they meet with a mediator who attempts to help them work out a mutually satisfactory resolution of the case.
The Mediation Program fulfills a number of Commission goals:
- Mediation is an effective method for achieving equitable results through a collaborative, rather than an adversarial, approach to resolving disputes. Studies have shown that there is greater satisfaction with dispute resolutions arrived at through the approach used in mediation than through resolutions imposed in litigation. In addition, mediation is more timely and less expensive than investigations and litigation.
- Discrimination complaints are often only one facet of parties' disputes. Mediation allows parties to be creative in crafting a resolution of the full range of issues dividing them.
- Commission staff have always attempted to facilitate settlements and continue to do so. However, because of the Commission's fact-finding and enforcement functions, some parties are reluctant to discuss their positions with the staff with a frankness that is conducive to settlement. Since what goes on in mediation is confidential, parties' discussions are less inhibited. In addition, although attempting to facilitate settlements is an important role of Commission staff, unlike professional mediators, the staff cannot devote their exclusive attention to conciliation.
- Mediation allows the Commission to focus its limited resources on cases which cannot be settled, cases which raise broad policy issues, cases which affect a large number individuals, and cases in which the respondent has previously violated the law.
For more information, please view our Mediation Brochure.
If a case is unable to be settled by either conciliation or mediation, the ALE will pursue the investigation to completion and the Commissioners will issue a final determination. If a settlement is accepted by the Commissioners, the Commission will close the case and take no further action except to enforce the terms of the agreement against the respondent. All settlement agreements are by statute public documents. If the parties choose to withdraw the complaint and enter into a private settlement, the Commission will not enforce the terms of the agreement.