Posts tagged with "exception to the exhaustion doctrine"

Tenured Teacher’s Wrongful Termination Claims Dismissed for Failure to Exhaust Administrative Remedies

This past June, the Superior Court of Connecticut, Judicial District of Stamford-Norwalk at Stamford granted a school district’s motion to dismiss a wrongful termination lawsuit by a teacher, who claimed he was fired because of his disability. Rather than reaching the merits of the case, the Court stated it lacked jurisdiction. This case illuminates the importance for teachers and staff to first exhaust all administrative remedies, including enumerated appeals processes, before seeking recourse with the courts.

Case Details

The teacher was a tenured physical education teacher at a public middle school in Norwalk when he allegedly became the target of continuous, inappropriate harassment and threats made by the school principal. The teacher sought therapy and was diagnosed with a chronic traumatic stress disorder, and the licensed therapist suggested that he seek reassignment to another school district. The teacher informed the school district of this recommendation, though he was denied a transfer to a physical education teacher position at another school within the district. Approximately one year later, the teacher was discharged and filed a lawsuit, alleging, in part, wrongful termination on the basis of mental disability discrimination.

The school district filed a motion to dismiss these counts, arguing that the teacher “failed to exhaust his administrative and statutory remedies pursuant to the Teacher Tenure Act, General Statutes § 10-151.”[1] Therefore, the school district argued, the court did not have subject matter jurisdiction to adjudicate the teacher’s claims. The teacher countered that a § 10-151 was not the only remedy he could seek: rather, he could bring his wrongful discharge course of action under the Connecticut Fair Employment Practices Act, or CFEPA. In addition, the teacher asserted that exhaustion was not required because “it would have been futile for him to pursue his claims with the board of education.”[2]

Administrative Remedies Under § 10-151

Connecticut courts have consistently found that “[a] tenured teacher’s challenge of an allegedly wrongful discharge, is governed by and limited to the statutory appeal process provided by § 10-151(e)… Thus, the plaintiff cannot pursue a separate tort claim for wrongful discharge. Instead, she is limited by the available administrative remedies under § 10-151.”[3] Thus, a court will not have jurisdiction unless the tenured teacher exhausted his administrative remedies or an exception to the exhaustion doctrine applies.[4]

The administrative remedies of § 10-151 can be outlined as follows:

  1. Prior to termination: written notice that termination is being considered must be given to the tenured teacher
  2. Within 7 days of receipt of notice in #1: teacher must file written request asking for reasons for termination
  3. Within 7 days of receipt of request in #2: written statement outlining the reasons must be supplied to the tenured teacher
  4. Within 20 days of receipt of statement from #3: teacher must file a written request for a hearing
  5. Within 15 days of receipt of request in #4: the hearing must be held

After the teacher received the written statement with the reasons for termination, he did not file a written request for a hearing. He asserted that he was:

[A]dvised by my attorney that the Norwalk [t]eachers [u]nion [p]resident, who was about to retire, was unsupportive of teachers in the [s]chool [d]istrict and would not assist them in termination hearings, would not bring grievances on their behalf and would not cooperate in terms of designating a teacher representative to the impartial hearing panel. Thus, I was advised by [my attorney] that a hearing pursuant to [s]ection 10-151(d) would be futile.[5]

The Court’s Decision

However, the Court was not persuaded on the teacher’s futility claim, which is a valid exception the exhaustion rule, because he failed to demonstrate that it “would have been futile for him to request a § 10-151(d) hearing.” The purpose of this hearing is “to resolve the question of whether any of the asserted grounds for termination is supported by the evidence adduced at the hearing.”[6] In this case, “if the plaintiff had requested the hearing afforded to him pursuant to § 10-151(d), he could have presented evidence demonstrating that the defendants sought to fire him for an illegal and discriminatory reason.”[7] 

Therefore, his tactical decision amounted to a deliberate decision to not avail himself of the statutory recourse available to him, and “[h]is failure to request a hearing and to pursue his available remedies is thus fatal to his present cause of action.”[8] The Superior Court thus granted the school district’s motion to dismiss the wrongful discharge claims.

Written by Lindsay E. Raber, Esq.

As a teacher, it is imperative that you understand Connecticut’s statutory scheme surrounding hiring, evaluation, and termination processes. Should you have any questions regarding these or other education law matters, you should seek the counsel of an experienced school law practitioner. Please do not hesitate to contact Attorney Joseph C. Maya, Esq. He may be reached at Maya Murphy, P.C., 266 Post Road East, Westport, Connecticut (located in Fairfield County), by telephone at (203) 221-3100, or by email at JMaya@mayalaw.com.

 


[1] Diaco v. Norwalk Public School District, 2012 Conn. Super. LEXIS 1544 at 6.

[2] Id. at 12.

[3] Tomlinson v. Board of Education, 226 Conn. 704, 730 (1993).

[4] Mendillo v. Board of Education, 246 Conn. 456, 464 (1998); Niestemki v. Ramos, Superior Court, Judicial District of Fairfield, Docket No. CV 06-5001386 (November 20, 2008, Bellis, J.)

[5] Id. at 21, n.8.

[6] Mendillo v. Board of Education, supra. 246 Conn. 468-69.

[7] Diaco v. Norwalk Public School District, supra, 2012 Conn. Super. LEXIS 1544 at 22.

[8] LaCroix v. Board of Education, 199 Conn. 70, 83-84 (1986).