the women’s underwear and attempted
to violate them.
One of the women subjected to the gauntlet was an admiral’s aide, Paula Coughlin. Ms. Coughlin went public about the
incident, drawing national press coverage. She sued the Hilton
Hotel and the Tailhook Association for assault, battery and
infliction of emotional harm. Punitive damages for the insult
After Coughlin’s lawsuit became public, 22 other Tailhook
attendees hired lawyers and filed suit. In 1993, Paul Eissinger,
a senior litigator in the Las Vegas law firm representing
the Tailhook Association’s insurance carrier, deposed the
claimants, then asked the insurance company to agree to a
mediation. Paul asked me to mediate the 22 claims. I had done
other mediations for Paul and was excited at getting the case.
Recognizing the sensitive nature of the women’s claims, I
got Eissinger’s permission to hire a female co-mediator. My
choice was a recently retired judge, who was also a wife and
mother. I bought copies of the Tailhook Report from the U.S.
Inspector General’s Office and delivered a copy to my co-mediator two weeks before the date of our mediation.
The co-mediator and I met at Eissinger’s office on the
morning of the mediation. He had arranged the use of the
firm’s main conference room with space for the 22 claimants
and their lawyers. The windows in the room looked over a
quiet residential street, affording those inside privacy and views
of trees and green lawns.
In the joint session, my co-mediator and I introduced ourselves, and I briefly described the mediaton process. Eissenger
introduced himself and the man and woman representing the
Tailhook’s insurance carrier. Eissinger told the claimants there
was no excuse for the Navy and Marine pilots’ conduct. He
apologized. He denounced their behavior and said that he was
authorized to offer the full amount of the Tailhook’s insurance
policy as settlement.
But the settlement offer had a catch. It required that all of
the claimants agree. Eissinger explained to women crowded
together in the conference room, “A settlement can occur
only if all 22 of you agree on a division of the money.
Otherwise, we will tender the insurance policy funds to the
court and let you litigate the matter.”
In the private meetings, my co-mediator and I met with the
women one at a time. We urged them to share their feelings
and vent their anger. We urged them to share the details of
their experience. We asked each claimant for their opinion on
how to divide the limited money available and told them how
we saw things. We explained the delays that can arise and cause
years to go by before an expensive and emotionally difficult
trial with an uncertain outcome could take place. We explained
to the women who were assaulted on the first night but came
back to the convention the next night
that the jury might find that they liked
being groped. We told waitresses that
because their shifts ended at 11:00 p.m.,
their claims of assault two hours later, at
2:00 a.m., might not seem credible to a
jury. Why were they still there?
All we could tell those well-intentioned women lured into a sexually
tinged nightmare was that settlement
allows a person a certain dollar amount
and avoids the trauma of reliving the
experience in a courtroom full of spectators and reporters.
We worked 11 hours and met with
all 22 women and their attorneys. The
mediation ended without a single settlement, but within a month, all the claims
settled for dollar amounts very close to
those we recommended in the mediation.
Sometimes people need to think
about their important decisions. They
want to discuss it with their spouse or
significant other. They want to know
what the other claimants are going to
do. My job was to educate and assess
the risk for the claimants. The mediation
planted seeds that took a month to
ADR Tailhook —continued
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