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The Culture of Dispute Avoidance and Conflict Resolution

One area that Sears is tracking closely is the effect of the ADA on conflict resolution. Sears has encountered six ADA-related employee lawsuits through early 1994 (five of them related to termination of the employee).

"We have not seen the explosion of litigation that was predicted or expected by many experts at the time the ADA was enacted," says Hamilton Davis, Assistant General Counsel in Sears Legal Department. "The fact that we've only had six ADA-related suits says something positive about our corporate culture, which encourages our employees to talk to their supervisors about problems while those problems are still resolvable."

Section V of the ADA encourages companies to use alternative dispute resolution techniques to avoid costly litigation. Sears has adopted alternative dispute resolution as a formal policy, in litigation, with good results. Davis says disability-related disputes are good candidates for resolution through fact finding and mediation because of the readily available accommodations that may be defined as solutions. He also points out that through mediation of disability-related disputes, company management better understands the issues involved, and all participants are able to agree on realistic expectations and resolutions.

In addition to a low incidence of lawsuits related to the ADA, Sears also has experienced fewer ADA-related employee complaints than it had expected. "As we have seen elsewhere," said Harry Geller, Sears Workforce Diversity Regional Manager, "because of our programs for people with disabilities, the ADA has had virtually no effect on the number of complaints received.

"By way of comparison, the percentage of disability complaints filed with the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) in 1993 represented 17.4 percent of all charges of discrimination. During the same time period, 10.5 percent of total complaints against Sears for discrimination filed with the EEOC were disability-related, 6.9 percent less than the national average."

Although it is still early in the history of ADA implementation, the success of Sears in relying on effective employer-employee communication to resolve disputes informally serves as a model for other companies. 6