Legal Memorandum: Exhaustion of Intra-union Remedies

Issue: In federal courts, in what cases have courts considered whether a union should be excused from exhausting union procedures prior to filing suit in federal court?

Area of Law: Employee Law, Litigation & Procedure
Keywords: Union grievance procedures; Exhaustion
Jurisdiction: Federal
Cited Cases: 744 F. Supp. 835; 728 F. Supp. 463; 905 F.2d 1539; 812 F.2d 443
Cited Statutes: § 301
Date: 02/01/2001

Courts reach varying conclusions in cases in which the employee claimed that to exhaust intra-union remedies would unreasonably delay an opportunity to obtain a judicial hearing on the merits of the claim.  Because it is within the court’s discretion to excuse exhaustion, the cases are extremely fact-specific.

For example, in Hill v. General Motors Corp., 697 F. Supp. 1274 (W.D.N.Y. 1988), the court upheld the denial of the employer’s and union’s motions for summary judgment.  Although the employee failed to exhaust available union procedures, the court found an issue of fact as to whether exhaustion would unreasonably delay the plaintiff’s opportunity to obtain a judicial hearing on the merits of the claim. Id. at 1280.  Interestingly, the court did not rely on the prospective length of the appeals procedure in making its determination.  Rather, it focused on the pre-appeal processing of the plaintiff’s grievance, which required four years.  Id. at 1279.  Also important were statistics presented by the plaintiff, which showed that the average time for exhaustion of the intra-union appeals procedures was over twenty-two months.  Id.

However, compare Hill with Wiggins v. Chrysler Corp., 728 F. Supp. 463 (N.D. Ohio 1989), aff’d, 905 F.2d 1539 (6th Cir.), cert. denied, 498 U.S. 1013 (1990).  In Wiggins, the court did not find unreasonable delay where “it took over 18 months for the National Attendance Council to process [the plaintiff’s] appeal.”  Id. at 467.  The Wiggins court believed that “[t]he fact […]

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