Not Telling Fired Worker That He Needs to Exhaust Administrative Remedies

In Washington v. Tyler Independent School District, 932 S.W.2d 686 (Tex. App.--Tyler 1996, no writ), the plaintiff alleged that the school district had terminated her for seeking compensation benefits. She argued that the district was estopped to assert a lack of jurisdiction for failure to exhaust administrative remedies because its representatives had failed to advise her of this prerequisite to filing suit. Id. at 689. The court concluded that even if the plaintiff could prove facts amounting to estoppel, jurisdiction could not thereby be conferred on the trial court. Id. at 690. In Janik v. Lamar Consolidated Independent School District, 961 S.W.2d 322 (Tex. App.-- Houston [1st Dist.] 1997, pet. denied), the plaintiff alleged that she had been terminated for discriminatory reasons. She claimed that the district had never told her of the administrative procedures that were prerequisite to suit. Id. at 324. Citing Washington, the court held that the trial could not acquire jurisdiction by estoppel. Id. As a general rule, a court cannot acquire subject-matter jurisdiction by estoppel. Nevitt v. Wilson, 116 Tex. 29, 285 S.W. 1079, 1084 (Tex. 1926); see also Southern Surety Co. v. Inabnit, 119 Tex. 67, 24 S.W.2d 375, 377 (Tex. Comm'n App. 1930, opinion adopted) (holding that an agency may not acquire jurisdiction by estoppel). The rule has been applied in three cases involving circumstances very similar to those in the present case. In Daniel v. Dallas Independent School District, 351 S.W.2d 356 (Tex. App.-- El Paso 1961, writ ref'd n.r.e.), a school custodian alleged that he had been wrongfully terminated because of his membership in a union. The plaintiff argued that the school district was estopped to assert a lack of jurisdiction for failure to exhaust administrative remedies because the school board and superintendent had told him after his termination that "there was nothing more for him to do, and that as far as they were concerned the matter was concluded". Id. at 358. The court rejected the argument, stating that "jurisdiction of a court is so important and essential that it has long been held that it cannot be conferred by estoppel. It is a statutory creation or enactment, and cannot be waived or conferred by consent or estoppel . . . ." Id. at 359.