Spring 2015

Timeliness of Grievances

While meeting with a district human resources specialist, Melissa Anzaldua, a teacher at Valley View ISD, discovered that the district had failed to pay her in accordance with the district salary schedule based on her years of teaching experience.  The human resources specialist informed Anzaldua that the human resources department would investigate the pay discrepancy but failed to report the outcome of the investigation to Anzaldua.  Almost a month after discovering the pay discrepancy and conferring with the human resources specialist, Anzaldua filed a formal grievance under Policy DGBA(LOCAL) claiming the district owed her back pay for the years during which she was underpaid.  The board denied Anzaldua’s grievance as untimely because she did not file her grievance within 15 days of the date that the human resources specialist informed her of the underpayment.  Anzaldua argued that the conversation she had with the human resource specialist was an informal grievance that tolled the deadline to file a formal grievance. The district responded that because the human resource staff member was not a supervisor, principal, or administrator, Anzaldua did not properly engage in the informal grievance process.

On appeal, the commissioner determined that, under the district’s local policy language in DGBA(LOCAL), an employee was not required to file a grievance until the informal process was complete.  According to the commissioner, the deadline for Anzaldua to file a grievance was tolled because Anzaldua did not receive a final response after an informal conference with staff in the human resources department.  In his decision the commissioner opined that “[t]he grievance process continues until the person or department with which the teacher met gives the teacher a final response, usually in writing.”  Although Anzaldua did not know that she had been undercompensated when she initially contacted the human resources department, the commissioner held that the meeting became an informal conference when the parties discovered Anzaldua had been underpaid.  The district’s grievance policy required that an informal conference be held with a grievant’s “supervisor, principal, or other appropriate administrator.”  Based on the dictionary definition of “administrator,” the commissioner held that all staff in a human relations department qualified as administrators.  According to the commissioner, the phrase “other appropriate administrator” includes any staff member with the authority to address an issue raised, even if the staff member is not authorized to resolve the issue.  Holding that Anzaldua timely filed her formal grievance, the commissioner remanded the case to the district for formal grievance proceedings on the merits.

Valley View ISD filed a judicial appeal of the commissioner’s decision in Travis County District Court.  LAF filed an amicus brief with the district court on April 28, 2015.  On June 2, 2015, the Travis County District Court entered a judgment affirming the commissioner’s decision.  Valley View Indep. Sch. Dist. v. Anzaldua, No. D-1-GN-14-004567 (353rd Dist. Ct., Travis County, Tex.).  LAF’s Attorney:  Todd Clark, Walsh, Gallegos, Treviño, Russo & Kyle P.C., Austin.