By: Penny Gans | WAMS Staff
Cliff Freed, in jeans and a polo shirt on a non-mediation day, is a down-to earth, focused listener who would immediately put any client at ease. Cliff joined the WAMS arbitration/mediation panel in 1996 after completing mediation training at the University of Washington. A specialist in employment-related disputes, Cliff maintains an active law practice and has been a partner in the law firm of Frank, Freed, Subit, Thomas since 1986.
According to Cliff, modern employment law has grown out of the civil rights acts of the 1960’s and subsequent legislation such as the 1990 Americans with Disabilities Act and the 1993 Family Medical Leave Act. Cliff and his partners represent employees, labor unions, small business owners, and non-profit organizations in cases involving discrimination, harassment, wage and hour disputes, and disability rights. Cliff’s clients have ranged from the ousted CEO of a large hospital chain to a female police detective being harassed by her superior to the owner of a small day care facility who prevailed in a dispute with DSHS and is now the successful owner of six day care centers. Today, Cliff’s work as a WAMS neutral comprises roughly 20% of his practice.
Cliff believes that patience is an essential tool in mediation. Because emotion plays such a large part in employment disputes, the mediator must take the time to allow both sides to completely air their views. “Employment is a relationship not unlike a marriage,” explains Cliff. “People have an incredible emotional investment in their jobs and self-image is often based on the job. It is an especially traumatic event to lose a job, especially if the employee’s reputation is hurt.
Employers can be emotional too, believing they have been unfairly accused or that their efforts to address the employee’s concerns have been ignored – that ‘no good deed goes unpunished.’” In spite of the emotional elements of the cases, however, fewer than 5% of employment disputes go on to litigation. Nevertheless, at the end of a mediation Cliff often hears one of the attorneys say, “I never thought this case would settle.”
Cliff‘s journey from Brooklyn, New York to Seattle and WAMS illustrates the happy results of accepting adventure, excelling at new challenges, and being in the right car pool at the right time. After growing up, graduating from college and beginning a teaching career in Brooklyn, Cliff made a summer visit to a friend who was bar-tending in a Pioneer Square tavern. After ten days of hiking and Seattle sunshine, Cliff returned home, re-packed his bags, and came back to join his buddy in the bar-tending business. He later managed the tavern (music seven nights a week), worked as a DJ and sports reporter for a Seattle radio station, took the LSAT, and graduated cum laude from UPS Law School (now Seattle University), where he was Managing Editor of the Law Review. Cliff found his future law partners through a fellow student in his Seattle-Tacoma car pool and met his wife, Eileen, on a blind date arranged by her mother, another Law Review member.
Among his many other activities, Cliff lectures part time at SU Law School and is Chair of the Labor and Employment Law Section of the King County Bar Association. He serves as a member of the Federal Pro Bono Screening Committee and is on the Board of The Homelessness Project, a non-profit agency providing transitional housing for homeless families in Seattle. Ten years ago, Cliff also discovered golf. He and his golfing group enjoy playing at many area courses and are looking forward to a trip to the British Open next year.