Rumours prompted unjustified transfer: Union

Parent complaint sparks investigation
|Canadian Labour Reporter|Last Updated: 02/23/2015

Being the new kid on the block can be difficult for students — but for teacher Tim Worthy, it proved to be just as tough. Worthy filed a grievance through his union, the Elementary Teachers’ Federation of Ontario, regarding a transfer from one school to another under the Limestone District School Board, based in Kingston, Ont. The board transferred Worthy from Welborne Avenue Public School, where he had taught for six years, to Truedell Public School. As a teacher with the district for 26 years, Worthy maintained a long, commendable employment record and consistently received positive performance appraisals throughout his career. He had never been subjected to discipline. When Worthy was assigned to a Grade 7 class during the 2013- 14 academic year, a parent of a student made a complaint about Worthy, relating to interactions Worthy had with his son in the schoolyard. The complaint was forwarded to the Children’s Aid Society and, after a lengthy investigation, the agency concluded, “there was not sufficient information to verify that the students that Mr. Worthy engages with are at risk of physical harm or emotional harm.” Subsequent to the report, the school board conducted its own separate investigation and interviewed additional teachers and staff. Again, there was no evidence of misconduct that would warrant disciplinary action. However, the school board decided to transfer Worthy to Truedell for the commencement of the 2014-15 school year, advising both the union and teacher that the move was not a disciplinary one. Despite this, Worthy and the federation filed a grievance, arguing that not only was the decision to transfer discriminatory, but it was done without just cause. In this case, the court of pub- lic opinion would have made the decision and any such transfer would have caused serious repu- tational harm. “Even if the school board did not intend to discipline the grievor, the circumstances in which the transfer was imposed, in the wake of a Children’s Aid Society investigation into a parent complaint, supported an inference of discipline by reason of the consequences to Worthy’s reputation among his colleagues and in the parent community,” the union argued. But the move (a lateral one) was done in Worthy’s interest, the school board maintained. “It would give him an opportunity to extract himself from the situation that had developed at the Welborne school and provide him with a fresh start at a new school,” the board said during the hearing. “If he remained at the Wel- borne school, he would be susceptible to other accusations and might be a target of parent complaints.” In his ruling, Norm Jesin decided to issue his conclusion without commenting on whether the transfer, effectively, was disciplinary. Instead, he looked at the collective agreement to determine whether the board had the discretion to facilitate the transfer under the collective agreement. It did not. Because the students involved in the investigation had moved on to secondary schools, the board’s rationale for transferring Worthy no longer applied, Jesin said. Therefore, he ordered the grievor be given the option and, at the end of the 2014-15 school year, to either return to Welborne or remain at Truedell. Reference: Limestone District School Board and the Elementary Teachers’ Federation of Ontario, Limestone Local. Norm Jesin — arbitrator. Vince Panetta for the employer, Cynthia Petersen for the union. Aug. 22, 2014.