Retaliation Claim Dismissed for Failure to Exhaust Administrative Remedies

The exhaustion of remedies doctrine requires parties to initiate and follow administrative procedures before seeking relief from the courts. The rationale behind the doctrine is that administrative agencies have specialized personnel, experience, and expertise to handle matters that arise under their jurisdiction. Additionally, an administrative complaint puts parties on notice of alleged wrongdoing, and administrative proceedings allow parties to resolve their disputes in a more efficient and less formal manner.

To allege discriminatory employment practices in a deferral state like Virginia, prior to filing any lawsuit, an aggrieved employee must exhaust administrative remedies by initiating an EEOC charge. Otherwise, the claim will be forever barred. The United States District Court for the Western District of Virginia recently addressed the exhaustion of remedies requirement in Kerney v. Mountain States Health Alliance.

Keltie Kerney was the Home Health Director at Norton Community Hospital (“NCH”) when she began having medical problems with her eye. She informed NCH that her medical problems would require medical leave and possibly future accommodation in eye.jpgorder to continue her employment. NCH granted Kerney medical leave from August 19, 2010 through December 14, 2010 when her physician released her to return to work “with accommodations.” Upon her return to work, the hospital terminated Kerney. Kerney claims that the hospital discriminated against her on the basis of her age and disability and that it retaliated against her for her request for medical accommodations. Kerney brought suit against NCH and its owner, Mountain States Health Alliance (“MSHA”) under the Age Discrimination in Employment Act of 1967 (“ADEA”) and the Americans with Disabilities Act (“ADA”).

Kerney filed an EEOC charge in September 2011. In the charge, Kerney checked boxes stating that she was claiming discrimination based on age and disability. She did not indicate that she was making a retaliation claim.

The court found that on the face of the EEOC charge, Kerney did not raise the retaliation claim. Kerney argued that her retaliation claim was reasonably related to the claims raised in her EEOC charge and should be allowed to proceed. The court dismissed Kerney’s argument because of a discrepancy between facts alleged in the charge and facts alleged in the complaint. According to the charge, Kerney requested and was given accommodation in the form of a long medical leave. When her physician released her to work with additional accommodation, she apparently did not communicate the need for accommodation to NCH. NCH terminated her seven months after she first requested accommodation. These facts did not support a retaliation claim and did not give defendants or the EEOC notice that Kerney was making such a claim. Because Kerney raised the retaliation claim for the first time in her pleadings, the court dismissed the claim for failure to exhaust administrative remedies.

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