• Court Strikes Down Provisions In Teacher Employment Contracts
  • February 19, 2008 | Author: Teresa R. Haykowsky
  • Law Firm: McLennan Ross LLP - Edmonton Office
  • Last Wednesday, Justice Marceau of the Court of Queen’s Bench of Alberta struck down several provisions with respect to various teacher employment contracts that were being used by five Alberta School Boards (Boards).

    The ATA successfully challenged the legality of these contractual provisions on the basis they violated the Boards’ duty to act reasonably in terminating a teacher’s employment pursuant to the School Act.

    Some highlights are as follows:

    A teacher’s right to a hearing under the School Act & teacher employment contracts

    The Boards had drafted a contractual provision in which the teacher agreed he or she was not entitled to a hearing prior to termination.

    The portion of the provision that required teachers to acknowledge and agree that in the event of termination of their contract, they were not entitled to written reasons nor a hearing, was determined to be outside the power granted to School Boards in the School Act.

    Basket provisions stipulating that the breach of other clauses in the employment contract lead to a recommendation to terminate the teacher

    The Boards had drafted contractual provisions in which teachers agreed that certain conduct or certain breaches within the employment contract were grounds for just termination, even when they were not necessarily so. The provisions were confusing and contrary to the letter and spirit of the School Act.

    Teacher conduct provisions

    The Boards sought agreement from the teacher to refrain from actions or activities which could be considered as acting professionally and within the letter and spirit of the School Act.

    This type of provision opened up the possibility that proper, professional and / or reasonable teacher conduct having the effect of bringing the Boards' reputation into disrepute could be used to terminate the teacher. Since the provisions were drafted in such a manner as to capture conduct which would not be unprofessional or otherwise, the provision offended the letter or spirit of the School Act and was struck down.

    Unique nature of teacher employment contracts in Alberta

    The Court noted that teacher employment in Alberta is subject to a unique and specialized regime created by the combined effect of the School Act, a governing collective agreement, an employment contract, and the common law. The regime creates a teacher tenure system which significantly differs from the common law where an employer is entitled to terminate an employee without just cause and pay damages in lieu of reasonable notice.

    What this case means

    • Careful attention must be taken in the draft of teacher employment contracts including consideration of:
      • the relevant School Act provisions, the governing collective agreement, and the common law
      • the procedural and substantive rights of teachers that arise upon termination,
      • delegation by the Board to the Superintendent with respect to teacher terminations, and
      • the scope of the authority of the Board of Reference regarding teacher terminations.

    Provisions in teacher employment contracts cannot be vague, uncertain or confusing, and must respect the statutory requirements set out in the School Act.