In a case that warns HR from taking hasty disciplinary action, a Quebec substitute teacher has won her legal battle against a school board that removed her name from the substitute teachers’ list, citing erotic pictures of her taken eight years earlier.
The plaintiff was working as a substitute teacher for the Chemin-du-Roy school board when “naked and erotic” pictures of her started circulating among teachers, support staff and students.
A principal at the school where the plaintiff was working at the time informed the school board’s HR director, and said she would be meeting with the plaintiff to get more information. However, the director did not wait to hear back from the principal before emailing almost 100 managers in the board’s district telling them not to use the plaintiff and that her name would be withdrawn from the substitute teacher’s list.
The plaintiff told the principal the pictures had been taken years earlier, when she was 19 and hoped to become a model. A contract allowing them to be circulating had been cancelled. The board chose to stick with its initial decision to withdraw her name from the substitute teachers’ list. The union filed a grievance, alleging an abuse of the school board’s rights as well as a violation of the Plaintiff’s privacy rights.
The school board argued that plaintiff’s conduct did not fit with the educational values of the school board and further constituted a violation of its Code of Ethics, and suggested that becauseshe was not a permanent employee her position was entirely dependent on the school board’s discretion.
The arbitrator found that the school board’s decision was not prudent and it was not diligent in verifying the facts or reassessing based on the plaintiff’s explanation. The school board did not investigate and, also failed to consider whether the employees who had circulated the pictures had, themselves, violated the school board’s Code of Ethics.
The board could not impose its Code of Ethics retroactively upon the plaintiff, who had done something neither immoral nor criminal, the arbitrator said. He ruled that the school board had abused its management rights and tarnished the plaintiff’s dignity and reputation. The arbitrator voided the school board’s directive to withdraw the Plaintiff’s name from the substitute teachers’ list and reserved his jurisdiction on damages.
Quebec labour lawyer Marie-Pier Côté said the case “reminds us of the potential serious consequences of hastily imposing discipline, and the importance of first investigating, gathering all relevant facts and testimony.”