Mediator: A Day in the Life

Normally mediators are wise to specialize and may mediate only one dispute a day, if that.

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Normally mediators are wise to specialize and may mediate only one dispute a day, if that. But here, for illustrative purposes, are three varied cases:

Your specialty is employment mediation. The week before Thanksgiving, Susan had been downsized after 10 years with her company, and she is suing for wrongful termination. In the mediation, her emotions pour out. Not only is she angry that she was let go merely so the company could hire someone cheaper in India, but she has no relatives and has always spent Thanksgiving and Christmas with coworkers. This year, she will be alone. Everyone is moved by Susan's story, and the company offers her a more generous severance package along with a permanent invitation to all company social events. Not thrilled but mollified, she agrees.

In your next mediation, a Muslim employee suffers from depression has been fired from the small architecture firm for which he worked. The employee claims both that he was a victim of religious discrimination and that the employer failed to provide reasonable accommodations to his depression. The employer vehemently denies that religion or ethnicity was a factor in the firing and maintains that the accommodations would devastate his business. After listening patiently and asking lots of questions, you ask if telecommuting might sufficiently reduce the problem. The disputants agree to a two-week trial, after which you'll meet again.

Like most mediators, you do pro bono work. In this next case, the police department asks you to mediate a dispute involving a neighbor complaining of frequent parties that last into the wee hours: "My bed shakes with every bass note, and it doesn't stop until 5 a.m." The partier agrees to tone down the music, and the neighbor agrees to be more tolerant, but you won't bet your life that this dispute is permanently settled.