On November 12, 2014, the Ontario Superior Court released its decision in Fernandes v. Peel Education & Tutorial Services Limited c.o.b. Mississauga Private School 2014 ONSC 6506, in which the Court ruled that a private school did not have just cause to terminate a teacher who admitted to falsifying student’s grades.
In this case, despite the fact that the Court found, among other things, that Fernandes “[did] an incompetent job of assessing his students, marking his students, and recording those marks,” and “lied to his employer,” it ruled that the school did not have just cause to terminate Fernandes’ employment. The Court found that prior to 2009, Fernandes had been a “well-regarded” teacher of ten years. Further, the Court was persuaded by the fact that the school allowed the incorrect grades to be sent out to the students and their parents while the school investigated Fernandes’ misconduct over a six-week period. This meant, in the Court’s view, that the school did not view the incorrect grades as being that serious. Lastly, the Court found that Fernandes admitting to the misconduct, albeit late in the process, was a mitigating factor. Taken together, the Court ruled that “the punishment outweighs the seriousness of the infraction”.
The Court awarded Fernandes 12 months of pay in lieu of notice for wrongful dismissal (approximately $52,000). The school was also found liable for the value of Fernandes’ lost long-term disability benefits, which the Court ruled that Fernandes would have qualified for, but for such benefits being terminated during the common law notice period.
This case illustrates that admitted dishonesty and arguably serious employee misconduct were insufficient to justify a finding that an employer had just cause to terminate an employee. Rather, the Court appears to take a “contextual approach” and will look at all relevant factors, including whether the employee has a relatively unblemished record, how seriously the employer treated the incident, the thoroughness of the employer’s investigation, whether the employee had a fair opportunity to explain his or her actions, and whether the employee showed remorse.
A more comprehensive article on this topic was published here on January 19, 2015.