Union Not Required To Exhaust Administrative Remedies Because MOU Did Not Provide For Class Grievances

Category: Fire Watch
Date: Jan 7, 2020 11:04 AM

The Association for Los Angeles Deputy Sheriffs (ALADS) represents non-management deputy sheriffs and peace officers employed in the County of Los Angeles District Attorney’s office. In 2017, the memorandum of understanding (MOU) between ALADS and the County contained provisions requiring the County to match compensation increases given to other safety employee unions. The MOU also contained a grievance procedure that ended in binding arbitration, to resolve any alleged violations of the MOU’s terms. However, the MOU did not provide for class grievances.

During the MOU’s effective period, the County approved a salary adjustment for another County safety employee union.  ALADS thereafter initiated two grievances concerning the County’s alleged failure to increase the salaries of ALADS’s members to match the salary adjustment approved for other safety employees. As part of the grievance procedure, ALADS sent written requests for arbitration to the Employee Relations Commission (ERCOM). The County objected to the requests because ALADS could not initiate a grievance on behalf of the individuals it represents. According to ALADS, the County also refused to comply with a discovery order from ERCOM. As a result, the arbitrator handling the grievances took the scheduled arbitrations off the calendar.

ALADS then sued the County; its lawsuit requested a writ of mandate requiring the County to comply with the MOU’s compensation provisions. The County filed a demurrer on the grounds that ALADS failed to exhaust the administrative remedies provided by the MOU. The trial court agreed and sustained the demurrer without leave to amend.

The California Court of Appeal reversed and remanded the case back to the trial court for further proceedings. The failure to arbitrate in accordance with the grievance procedures in an MOU is a failure to exhaust administrative remedies.  The Court of Appeal examined an exception to the exhaustion of remedies requirement.  Under that exception, exhaustion of administrative remedies is not required if the available remedy is inadequate, or if pursuing that remedy would be futile.

ALADS argued that because class-wide relief was not available through the MOU’s grievance process, it would need to prosecute separate individual grievance actions on behalf of each of its 7,800 members.  The Court of Appeal agreed that it would be an onerous, time-consuming process.  The Court of Appeal decided that remedy was inadequate and that the exception to the exhaustion requirement applied. 

There is no need to exhaust administrative remedies if the judicial action seeks relief on behalf of a class, and the available administrative procedures do not provide class-wide relief.  Although ALADS’s action against the County was a representative action on behalf of its members and not a class action, that distinction was immaterial because ALADS sought relief on behalf of a designated group of persons (its members), which was similar to a class action.

ALADS v. County of Los Angeles, 2019 WL 6463183 (2019).

Note:

This case illustrates why an agency may not always rely on a failure to exhaust administrative remedies defense despite a failure to use an MOU grievance procedure. Accordingly, agencies should closely examine their grievance procedures and consider whether to provide for class grievances.

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