November 30, 2012

Maine Human Rights Commission creates mediation panel

STAFF REPORT

AUGUSTA -- The state group charged with investigating claims of illegal discrimination in employment, housing and education and other areas has set up a program to try to resolve disputes sooner.

The Maine Human Rights Commission on Friday announced the creation and staffing of the Third-Party Neutral Mediation Program, and two of the five mediators chosen for the initial roster are former commission employees.

"This new program will allow the commission to resolve cases at an early stage in the commission's investigation process, and help the parties resolve their disputes with a feeling that they have been heard, without investing substantial time and money in litigation," said Commission Chairman Paul Vestal, in a statement announcing the program.

According to the commission's fiscal 2012 annual report, 639 charges were filed, 82 percent of those involving complaints of discrimination in employment; 11.5 percent involving housing complaints; and almost 6 percent were complaints about public accommodation.

The report says disability discrimination was alleged in a third of the complaints and whistleblower discrimination was alleged in a fifth of them.

Vestal's announcement said external mediators have been used previously and informally.

About 40 trained mediators applied when the commission announced its intent last month, said Amy Sneirson, the commission's executive director. The mediators will receive a stipend for each completed mediation.

Those selected as mediators are:

* Patricia Ryan, who retired last year as the commission executive director. She had been volunteering previously as a mediator.

* Francia Davis, who retired in 2010 as the commission's compliance officer. She too had worked previously as a volunteer mediator.

* Maria Fox, a lawyer who serves on mediation panels for the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission, the Maine state court system, the Maine Labor Relations Board and the New Hampshire Human Rights Commission.

* Jonathan Reitman, a lawyer and mediator who has taught mediation at the University of Maine School of Law for 10 years. He is on mediation panels for the American Arbitration Association, the U.S. General Services Administration Council, the National Roster of Environmental Conflict Resolution and Consensus Building, the U.S. Institute for Environmental Conflict Resolution, the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission and Mediators Beyond Borders in the Middle East.

* Rebekah Smith, a lawyer and mediator who received a private fellowship from the Skadden Arps Foundation to offer mediation at the commission. She also conducts mediations for the Maine state court system, the Maine Department of Education, the Maine Board of Labor Relations and the Community Mediation Systems.

More information on the Maine Human Rights Commission is available at www.maine.gov/mhrc.

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