Every once in a while there comes a decision that can shake up your expectations.  

Courtesy morguefile.com "beach"The case of CHRO ex. rel Nemeth v. Westport Big & Tall, Inc. is one of them.  In it, the presiding human rights referee dismissed a CHRO complaint because the employee’s (and his attorney) failed to attend a hearing conference — essentially a meeting were upcoming schedules are discussed. 

What’s surprising about the decision is that the employee’s attorney had notified the referee that she would be in Florida on the date in advance and said she could participate over the telephone.

In the referee’s opinion that wasn’t good enough because the request by the attorney didn’t satisfy other procedural requirementst, including proposing alternative dates and copying the CHRO’s counsel on the requests. 

Now, you might think that perhaps this was because the conference was scheduled well in advance and the request for a delay came about at the last minute. But that’s not the case here either.  In fact, notice for the July 23, 2010 hearing conference was only sent out the prior week, on July 14, 2010.  To the human rights referee, this too provided no excuse for failing to follow other regulations:

Notwithstanding the policy in favor of having cases heard on their merits, parties and their attorneys do not, without consequences, decide for themselves if they will attend hearings, what hearings they will attend, what procedures they will follow and what procedures are too inconvenient for them to attempt compliance. 

What’s the takeaway for employers (and even employees) from this case?  If you have a matter in which reasonable cause has been found and you’re proceeding with a hearing at the CHRO, strict compliance with the procedural requirements is the path being advanced by the CHRO now. Even vacation schedules are no match, unless other attempts are made to comply with the rules.