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Information Reviewed: Mediation of Employment Discrimination Disputes Involving Persons With Psychiatric Disabilities
Author(s): K. Moss, J. Swanson, M. Ulllman, and S. Burris
Source: Psychiatric Services 53, 988-994
Date: August 2002
Type: Journal article

Do people with psychiatric disabilities who file employment discrimination complaints with the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) under the Americans With Disabilities Act (ADA) get referred to the EEOC mediation program as often as ADA claimants with other disabilities? A little bit more and enough so to make the amount significant, found this National Institute of Mental Health study.

"Previous studies and our own preliminary interviews at EEOC offices suggested that individuals with psychiatric disabilities might be excluded from mediation because of stereotypical assumption about their inability to engage meaningfully in mediation. The data show that claimants with a psychiatric disability were less likely to be offered the opportunity to participate in mediation. Although this finding was statistically significant given the large sample the magnitude of the difference--about 2 percent--was not remarkable, being only about four percent lower than mediation offers for other ADA claimants."

For this study, the investigators examined 23,759 ADA charges filed with the EEOC from January 1, 1999, through June 30, 2000 (and closed by September 30, 2000). Psychiatric disorders reported were anxiety (758); depression (1,825); bipolar disorder (510); schizophrenia (123), other emotional impairments (673); and chemical abuse (128). Mediation referral rates for cases involving people with schizophrenia were the lower than people with other psychiatric disorders.

To back up a bit, the EEOC is responsible for enforcing the employment provisions of the ADA. However, the EEOC doesn't have the resources to properly investigate all the cases brought before it. So, the EEOC uses mediation, where a neutral third party helps people develop options for a mutually acceptable solution to their conflict.

The mediation program typically handles medium priority cases. These cases appear to have merit but maybe not enough substance for litigation. In this study, 72.1% medium-priority cases were refereed to mediation as compared to 31.8% of the high-priority cases and 11.2% low-priority cases. Only 38.9% of employers agreed to be in the mediation; 89.5% of the people bringing complaints agreed to mediation.

No significant difference in was found by type of disability in those who agreed to mediate. However, employers were less willing to participate in mediation if the person with the complaint had a psychiatric disability, especially if the person had schizophrenia.

Of the 3,277 total of employment ADA cases that mediated, 62.2% were settled. The small number of substance abuse cases had a high settlement rate (87.2%), which was higher than cases involving other disabilities. However, few employers agreed to mediate with people with substance abuse problems.

Interestingly, once employers agreed to mediate with people who had psychiatric disorders, the settlements were typical to those of people who had other disabilities. More than three-fourths (77.9%) of mediated settlements for people who had psychiatric disorders alone resulted in financial settlement. This settlement, actual money and expected benefits such as promotion rated slightly higher than settlement received by people who had other disabilities. This was true except for cases involving substance abuse that had lower actual money settlements but higher expected benefits.

Settlement actual dollar ranges for psychiatric disability cases averaged about $575 for individuals with schizophrenia to $6,735 for individuals with anxiety disorders. Results showed that people with anxiety disorders or depression received more actual dollars amounts than people with non-psychiatric disabilities. But people with schizophrenia or bipolar disorders received less than people with non-psychiatric disabilities.

EEOC's own program assessment has been positive. These finding indicated that EEOC also has been effective in resolving ADA cases. It can further its mission to eliminate workplace discrimination by educating employers about the capabilities of people with psychiatric disabilities.

At the time of this publication, Kathryn Moss was with the Cecil G. Sheps Center for Health Services Research at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, Jeffrey Swanson at Duke University Medical Center in Durham, North Carolina; Michael Ullman with the Institute for Human Services in Honolulu, Hawaii; and Scott Burris at Beasley School of Law at Temple University in Philadelphia. #2181

Moss, K., Swanson, J., Ulllman, M., & Burris, S. (2002, August). Mediation of employment discrimination disputes involving persons with psychiatric disabilities. Psychiatric Services 53, 988-994.

Reviewer: Cindy Higgins

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