Wednesday, March 12, 2014
Kennebec Journal staff reports
AUGUSTA – The state commission that investigates claims of illegal discrimination has set up a program aimed at resolving disputes sooner.
The Maine Human Rights Commission on Friday announced the creation and staffing of the Third-Party Neutral Mediation Program. 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 prepared statement.
According to the commission's 2011-12 annual report, 639 charges were filed, 82 percent involving complaints of discrimination in employment, 11.5 percent involving housing and almost 6 percent complaints about public accommodations.
The report says disability discrimination was alleged in one-third of the complaints and whistleblower discrimination was alleged in one-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. Each mediator will receive a stipend for each completed mediation.
Those selected as mediators are:
• Patricia Ryan, who retired last year as the commission's executive director. She had been volunteering previously as a mediator.
• Francia Davis, who retired in 2010 as the commission's compliance officer. She, too, 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.
• Rebekah Smith, a lawyer and mediator who received a private fellowship from the Skadden Arps Foundation to offer mediation for the commission.