Alternative Dispute Resolution (ADR)

Alternative Dispute Resolution (ADR)

The DPOR Alternative Dispute Resolution (ADR) section conducts conciliations for all fair housing cases, as well as mediations for some regulatory complaints against licensees. ADR is free, voluntary, confidential, and non-adversarial, with the objective of reaching a mutually acceptable agreement between the parties.

Alternative Dispute Resolution Section
Phone: (804) 367-0393

Frequently Asked Questions (FAQs)

What is an alternative dispute resolution process?

An alternative dispute resolution (ADR) process is any structured process in which a neutral, impartial person assists parties in a dispute in reaching a voluntary settlement by means of mediation, conciliation, facilitation, use of ombudsperson, or any other proceeding leading to a voluntary settlement.

The Department of Professional and Occupational Regulation (DPOR) offers mediation and conciliation as its alternative dispute resolution processes. Arbitration is not included in this program.

What are the advantages of ADR?

It is economical. DPOR offers the parties the opportunity to participate at no cost. In addition, the disputing parties remain in complete control of the outcome of the dispute. If the parties resolve the dispute through an ADR process, it prevents them from having to endure a lengthy DPOR investigation and/or possible civil litigation.

Who are the neutrals?

The neutrals include individuals who are certified as mediators by the Virginia Supreme Court and who volunteer their services to DPOR. DPOR also uses other agencies' employees who are trained or experienced in conducting dispute resolution proceedings and in providing dispute resolution services.

What is mediation?

It is an ADR process in which the disputing parties meet and a neutral, impartial third party (mediator) facilitates discussions to assist them in reaching a mutually acceptable resolution of their dispute. The mediation is always a voluntary process. During mediation, the decision-making authority rests with the parties. The mediator has no authority to make a decision or impose a settlement upon the parties.

What happens during mediation?

The mediator will explain the mediation process, procedures, and rules of conduct during the mediation conference. Each party will be given the opportunity to briefly tell their side, uninterrupted. Each party will be expected to share information with the mediator and the other party, and to work to resolve the dispute by negotiating and bargaining in good faith. Mediators do not assign blame, judge who is right or wrong, or impose solutions. They help the parties discuss the problem openly and identify lasting solutions. As a final step, the mediators will help put an agreement in writing.

Do the parties have to meet face-to-face to resolve a dispute?

No. Under DPOR's ADR program, disputes may be resolved through teleconferences or via "shuttle diplomacy." This type of ADR process is referred to as conciliation, which is less formal than mediation. A neutral third party facilitates communication between the parties and without deciding the issue or imposing a solution. However, it is often done without the parties ever meeting face-to-face. Teleconferences include all parties and their representatives through conference calls. In shuttle diplomacy, offers and counter-offers are conveyed to the parties separately by the mediator through a combination of telephone calls, correspondence and/or in person meetings. During shuttle diplomacy, the parties seldom interact directly. The role and responsibilities of the parties and of the mediator are the same during this ADR process as it is during mediation.

Who may participate in the mediation session?

All the parties must volunteer to participate. Each party should be prepared and have the authority to settle the dispute through mediation. Witnesses are not required, since the purpose of the mediation is not to determine guilt or innocence, proof or blame, but is to seek a solution acceptable to all parties. Usually the mediator prefers to hear about the issues and from the parties themselves about how to resolve them.

Do I have to retain an attorney?

You are not required to retain an attorney. However, each party is encouraged to consult with independent legal counsel before or during the mediation/conciliation process. Each party should have a mediated/conciliated agreement reviewed by an attorney before signing the agreement or they waive the opportunity to do so. The mediator will not provide legal advice regarding likely court outcomes, the relative legal merits of a party's case or the application of legal principles to particular situations.

How does mediation affect the complaint filed with DPOR?

If the parties resolve the dispute through mediation/conciliation, a Memorandum of Agreement may be drafted by the parties or by the attorneys of the parties, with the assistance of the mediator as the scrivener.

For regulatory complaints, once the agreement is reviewed and signed by all parties to the dispute, the complaint filed with the Department will be closed and upon complying with the terms and conditions in the agreement, the complaint will not be reopened for further processing.

In fair housing cases, if conciliation is successful and both parties reach an agreement, the investigation will be suspended and the board may vote to accept the conciliation agreement. 

Is mediation confidential?

Yes. Mediation proceedings are considered "private", that is, not open to the public. No recording devices are allowed. All information presented during mediation is deemed confidential. All memoranda, work products, or other materials contained in the case file of a mediator and the file of the DPOR mediation program are confidential. However, information that can be learned in other ways or through outside sources cannot be kept confidential simply because it is discussed in mediation. Allegations of threats of future harm shall not be confidential. The Memorandum of Agreement itself is not confidential, unless both parties agree in writing.

How long does mediation take?

The length of mediation depends upon the parties' willingness to resolve the dispute and the complexity of the issues. Some complaints may be mediated in less than an hour, while others may require multiple sessions.

What happens if I decide not to participate in ADR, or if the parties are unsuccessful in resolving the dispute?

The complaint will be forwarded to the appropriate section for further processing. For regulatory complaints, the complaint may be closed, resolved informally, or investigated further. If disciplinary action occurs, the board may require remedial education, impose a fine, suspend or revoke the license, or fail to renew a license. A board CANNOT require any individual or business to refund money, correct deficiencies, or provide other personal remedies.

In fair housing cases, if one of the parties does not want to attempt conciliation, or if the conciliation is unsuccessful or the board fails to accept an agreement, the board will either dismiss the complaint or determine if reasonable cause exists to support a charge of housing discrimination.