Answer: The employee was not required to comply with the city’s internal administrative review procedures before bringing her FMLA claim in federal court. If Congress has specifically required the exhaustion of administrative remedies, that will be a prerequisite to filing suit in court. However, the FMLA does not contain such an "exhaustion requirement." Thus, the court in this case was required to determine whether the employee was obligated to exhaust her administrative remedies prior to commencing the federal claim.
In deciding, the court balanced the employee’s interest in retaining prompt access to a federal judicial forum against the city’s interest in "efficiency or administrative autonomy" that the exhaustion requirement was designed to further. The court found that the employee was not required to exhaust the city’s administrative procedures because
- she was seeking to enforce important rights granted to her by federal law,
- the language presented regarding the city’s administrative remedies was "permissive," and in no instance were employees informed that they were required to utilize these procedures, and
- the deadlines set forth in the city’s rules and regulations were too short, amounting to "a trap for the inexperienced and unwary employee."
Several aspects of the city’s Charter and Rules and Regulations contributed to the court’s denial of its request to dismiss the employee’s claim. First, the Charter stated that an employee "shall ... have the privilege of a public hearing before the Civil Service Board" in order to appeal a demotion, suspension, or discharge. Significantly, the Charter did not state that an employee "must" exercise this privilege in order to sue the city. Secondly, the city’s Rules and Regulations stated that an employee who had been subject to discipline "may" request a review of the action either orally or in writing, within three and ten days, respectively. Again, the court noted that the rules and regulations did not require employees to request a review, and that by allowing employees only three to ten days to request review, the employer was providing an inadequate amount of time to formulate a response to the disciplinary measures. Finally, the court observed that the city had not asserted that it would be prejudiced in any way by the employee’s failure to exhaust its administrative process.
Cite: Krohn v. Forsting, (DC ED Mo) 138 LC 33,901.
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