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Lawyer’s Lantern



Teresa Sebastian is the general counsel of Darden Restaurants, Inc. which includes Red Lobster, Olive Garden, LongHorn Steakhouse, and other familiar full-service dining establishments. Since 1996, Darden has had a Dispute Resolution Process (“DRP”) to fairly and effectively resolve employment claims between the company and its employees. The DRP is a multi- step process that includes mediation and arbitration as the final two steps. As an avid supporter of dispute resolution, Sebastian is committed to ensuring Darden’s program remains fair and accurately reflects Darden’s growing, diverse population. Diversity & the Bar spoke with Darden’s GC to see what they are doing to increase diversity among the mediators and arbitrators who participate in the Dispute Resolution Process.

What is your perception of the degree of diversity within the ranks of American Mediators and Arbitrators (aka neutrals)? Statistics on diversity can often be very difficult to obtain and rarely shared by independent Alternative Dispute Resolution (ADR) service organizations. By some estimates, fewer than two percent of full-time neutrals in the United States are people of color. Certainly, Darden’s experi- ence indicates a woeful underrepresentation of minority neutrals available to service our mediation and arbitration panel needs. Darden has a very diverse workforce, and any employee’s participation in our DRP program must be consistent with this diversity. We want the ranks of neutrals available for selection to mirror the diversity of our work- force. However, sourcing people of color as neutrals has been challenging and has not produced satisfactory results for companies such as Darden that wish to utilize the services of racially diverse neutrals.

Why is it important to Darden to see an increase in diversity among mediators and arbitrators? One of Darden’s core values is to embrace and celebrate diversity in all we do. We embrace and celebrate the diversity of our guests, employees, suppliers, and the communities we serve. We are proud of these values and believe that they give us a competitive advantage in the marketplace. So it should not be a surprise that we also embrace and celebrate diversity in the treatment of our employees and in the resolution of any disputes which may arise in the employment context. We have a successful DRP that our employees access with the


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