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Alexandria Redevelopment & Hous. Auth. v. Walker

Supreme Court of Virginia

June 4, 2015

ALEXANDRIA REDEVELOPMENT AND HOUSING AUTHORITY
v.
LORAIN WALKER

FROM THE CIRCUIT COURT OF THE CITY OF ALEXANDRIA. James C. Clark, Judge.

Brian Steinbach (George B. Breen; Epstein Becker & Green, on briefs), for appellant.

Herbert S. Rosenblum for appellee.

PRESENT: All the Justices

OPINION

Page 298

D. ARTHUR KELSEY, JUSTICE.

In the circuit court, Lorain Walker filed a complaint alleging that she had been improperly discharged by the Alexandria Redevelopment and Housing Authority (" ARHA" ). The circuit court denied her requests for reinstatement and money damages but held that she was entitled to have her claims arbitrated under ARHA's grievance procedure. ARHA appeals, arguing that the circuit court misapplied Code § 15.2-1507. We agree and reverse.

I.

Walker worked for ARHA for several years before being discharged on September 23, 2010, for " grossly" violating ARHA's " absenteeism and tardiness policies." Walker filed a grievance seeking further review of her discharge. ARHA's grievance policy included various stages of review that, when applicable and timely requested, culminated in a hearing by an independent arbitrator.

After Walker's grievance passed the initial stages of review, ARHA informed her in February 2011 that a panel of potential arbitrators had been requested from the Federal Mediation and Conciliation Service (" FMCS" ). ARHA explained to Walker that when the parties received the names on the panel, she must participate in alternating strikes until a single arbitrator was chosen. Under ARHA's grievance policy, this process must be accomplished " [w]ithin thirty days after receipt of the panel."

After ARHA had submitted a request to FMCS for a panel of arbitrators, it followed up with Walker by emails to her on February 7 and 15, 2011. Without addressing the panel of potential arbitrators, Walker replied via her smartphone on February 15: " I am seeking counsel so I can go to court." (Emphasis added.) Within minutes of Walker's message, ARHA's counsel replied, asking her to clarify whether her reference to court meant that she was " no longer interested in arbitration of [her] discharge." Walker never replied to this question.

Several weeks later, ARHA reminded Walker that the thirty-day period would expire on March 17, 2011. If she was still interested in submitting her grievance to arbitration, ARHA stated, Walker needed to participate in the arbitrator selection process, which ARHA offered to complete with her by telephone if she would provide her phone number and an acceptable time to speak. If Walker continued to be unresponsive, ARHA warned her that it would conclude that she was " no longer interested in pursuing arbitration."

After the March 17, 2011 deadline passed without any response from Walker, ARHA informed her that " effective immediately ARHA will treat your request for arbitration as withdrawn." Nevertheless, the next day Walker sent a cryptic email from her smartphone stating simply that she was " interested in arbitration" and providing her phone number. She offered no explanation, however, for her failure to participate in the arbitrator selection process prior to the expiration of the grievance procedure's thirty-day deadline.

Four days after the deadline to select an arbitrator, Walker wrote to ARHA objecting, for the first time, to the use of emails to ...


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