A long service teacher who was given a home assignment and disciplined as a result of a variety of concerns, was found to have suffered harassment within the meaning of the Ontario Human Rights Code (the ”Code”) and awarded $20,000 in mental distress damages.
After teaching at the same school for approximately three decades without incident (but with ongoing disability accommodation) a variety of concerns developed relating to the extent of the teacher’s disability, her teaching ability and other issues, including the state of her classroom. When two parents brought forward complaints, later in the school year, that the teacher had mistreated their children, the teacher was placed on home assignment with pay. The Employer purported to do so as a non-disciplinary measure, pending investigation.
The teacher remained on home assignment for the balance of the school year, but was invited to return in September.
In response to the Employer’s actions, the Union filed a grievance on behalf of the teacher alleging discipline without cause and harassment in violation of both the collective agreement and the Code. The hearing spanned some two and one half years and resulted in an award highly critical of the manner in which the Board treated the teacher.
Despite some evidence to the contrary, the arbitrator found the teacher to have had no proven deficiencies in her teaching abilities. The arbitrator also found that the letters issued to the teacher, purportedly in a non-disciplinary manner, were lacking cause, disciplinary in nature, punitive in effect, excessive in measure, and evidence of animus against the teacher. The Principal had stated in the letter that the parent’s observations raised concerns about her“well-being and fitness”.
The arbitrator was highly critical of theBoard accepting as fact the allegations made by children whose parents had brought forward complaints relating to the teacher’s conduct. The arbitrator found that the investigation was flawed and unreliable, as it apparently consisted solely of speaking to three elementary school students, with no one else present, and the teacher was not interviewed or told what the students had alleged.
The arbitrator concluded that, in sending the teacher home for a protracted period, the Board had acted without justification and its conduct amounted to an act of harassment within the meaning of the Code; that is, “a course of vexatious comment or conduct which was known or ought reasonably to be known to be unwelcome”. In particular, the arbitrator found the teacher to have been harassed on the basis of “disability”.
The arbitrator declared the Board to have violated both the collective agreement and the Code in its treatment of the teacher and ordered all disciplinary letters expunged, as well as compensation for any loss or earnings and benefits, including lost sick days. The arbitrator also ordered the Board to pay $20,000 in general damages to the teacher as a result of mental distress which the arbitrator believed the teacher had suffered. The arbitrator declined to award punitive damages.