The opinion of the court was delivered by: URBINA
Denying Defendant's Motion for Judgment as a Matter of Law
Among the several issues presented to the court by the defendant's Rule 50 motion, is one of first impression requiring interpretation of the District of Columbia's Family and Medical Leave Act (FMLA).
Fed. R. Civ. P. 50. Having denied the Rule 50 motion on all grounds, the court specifically addresses herein the FMLA issue in order to amplify the record with the court's reasoning as it relates to contested aspects of the FMLA's administrative process requirements.
Plaintiff's complaint alleges that she was subjected to sexual harassment and retaliation in contravention of Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, as amended, 42 U.S.C. § 2000e et seq., while working at the District of Columbia's Department of Public Works, Bureau of Motor Vehicles (BMV) in 1995. In addition, plaintiff claims that defendant violated the FMLA when she was not allowed to resume to her position or its equivalent upon her return from her medical leave. Plaintiff then filed the present action without pursuing administrative recourse. At the conclusion of plaintiff's case in chief, and again at the end of the defendant's case, during a jury trial, the defendant moved for judgment as a matter of law on all claims.
Defendant urged the following: plaintiff failed to apply for FMLA leave; the record offered no evidence that the District of Columbia violated the FMLA; and that plaintiff did not exhaust her administrative remedies thereby rendering the court without jurisdiction to entertain the matter. Because the court concluded that there was a sufficient factual predicate for a jury to decide the issues on the facts presented and that the court's jurisdiction was not infirm, the court denied defendant's motion on all claims. However, for the reasons more fully discussed below, the court deems the FMLA claim worthy of brief discussion on an issue raised in support of its dismissal, namely, the exhaustion of administrative procedure.
Under the FMLA, an employee of the District of Columbia is entitled to a total of 16 work weeks of family leave during any 24-month period for various family and medical reasons. See D.C. Code §§ 36-1302 and 36-1303 (1990). An employee must provide an employer with reasonable advance notice, "if the leave is foreseeable based on planned medical treatment or suspension." D.C. Code § 36-1303. The employer may request that the employee submit supporting documentation for the taking of medical leave. D.C. Code § 36-1304. Section 1305 guarantees that the employee will be restored, upon return from the leave, to his/her original position or an equivalent position and that the employee shall not lose any benefits or seniority associated with the position. D.C. Code § 36-1305.
Section 1309 describes an administrative enforcement procedure to be administered by the Mayor of the District of Columbia. It provides, in part, that the Mayor "shall provide an administrative procedure pursuant to which a person claimed to be aggrieved under [the FMLA] may file a complaint against an employer alleged to have violated [the FMLA]." Section 1309 requires that a complaint be filed within 1 year of the occurrence or discovery of the alleged violation. D.C. Code § 36-1309. Section § 1309 also outlines the necessary steps in the administrative procedure for the aggrieved employee to file a claim. However, the section does not specify whether this administrative procedure is a prerequisite to filing a civil law suit in court. Id.
Section 1310 of the FMLA provides that an employee or the Mayor "may" bring a civil action against any employer to enforce the provisions of the FMLA in any court of competent jurisdiction within one year of the alleged violation. D.C. Code § 36-1310. However, § 1310 does not comment on § 1309's administrative procedure.
Simply framed, the issue before the court is whether the interplay of § 1309 and § 1310 establishes an "exhaustion" prerequisite to a civil action, or, in the alternative, whether the FMLA simply provides alternative enforcement mechanisms allowing for administrative enforcement under § 1309 as well as enforcement by a civil action under § 1310.
Pursuant to Fed. R. Civ. P. 50(a), a motion for judgment as a matter of law may be made at any time before submission of the case to the jury. Specifically,
If during a trial by jury a party has been fully heard on an issue and there is no legally sufficient evidentiary basis for a reasonable jury to find for that party on that issue, the court may determine the issue against that party and may grant a motion for judgement as a matter of law against that party with respect to a claim or defense that cannot under the controlling law ...