The Restorative Workplace: An Organizational Learning Approach to Discrimination

71 Pages Posted: 2 Sep 2015 Last revised: 21 Jun 2019

See all articles by Deborah Thompson Eisenberg

Deborah Thompson Eisenberg

University of Maryland Francis King Carey School of Law

Date Written: September 1, 2015


On the fiftieth anniversary of Title VII of the Civil Rights Act, many employers continue to search for ways to implement the law’s antidiscrimination and equal opportunity mandates into the workplace. The current litigation-based approach to employment discrimination under Title VII and similar laws focuses on weeding out “bad apples” who are explicitly prejudiced. This “victim-villain” paradigm may fail to correct the complex, nuanced causes of workplace discrimination, or exacerbate the problem. This article explores an alternative approach — restorative practices — that may integrate the policy goals of antidiscrimination laws into the practical realities of managing an organization. Restorative practices engage everyone in the organization with a sense of ownership in and commitment to the mission of building an inclusive, egalitarian workplace.

Merging research from the fields of employment law, organizational management, and cognitive psychology, this article analyzes how restorative practices can facilitate an organizational learning approach to workplace discrimination. Proactively, restorative dialogue helps to build social capital, reduce explicit and implicit biases, and cultivate a shared commitment to egalitarian norms. Reactively, restorative practices can manage defensive routines often triggered by discrimination complaints and provide a process that can transform conflict into greater understanding and change. A restorative approach makes it more likely that the individuals involved — and the larger organization — can repair the harms caused by discrimination, correct systemic issues underlying the problem, and learn to prevent inequities in the future.

Keywords: conflict management, workplace productivity, harassment, ADR, dispute resolution, intergroup relations, workplace culture, implicit bias

Suggested Citation

Eisenberg, Deborah Thompson, The Restorative Workplace: An Organizational Learning Approach to Discrimination (September 1, 2015). 50 University of Richmond Law Review 487 (2016), U of Maryland Legal Studies Research Paper No. 2015-28, Available at SSRN:

Deborah Thompson Eisenberg (Contact Author)

University of Maryland Francis King Carey School of Law ( email )

500 West Baltimore Street
Baltimore, MD 21201-1786
United States

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