Annual renewal created employment relationship requiring notice of termination

Decade of annual renewals created employment relationship but skating club not responsible for instructor's private lessons with members

A skating instructor was entitled to notice when her contract wasn’t renewed but not proceeds from the program she taught or compensation for her income from private lesssons, the Ontario Superior Court of Justice has ruled.

Laurene Collin-Knoblauch was a skating instructor and coach with the Oakville Skating Club in Oakville, Ont. She started with the club in September 1992 by signing a coaching services agreement, which ran from September to May and was renewed annually. According to the agreements, Collin-Knoblauch had to submit a written application 30 days before the expiration of each agreement to be a coach for the following year and the club would decidewhether to accept the application or not. Each winter, the club hired coaches according to the number of skaters it expected to have. Collin-Knoblauch also gave private lessons, for which clients paid her directly and the club was not involved in except to rent the ice.

Collin-Knoblauch ran a Spring Skate program, an off-season program similar to the club’s learn to skate program in the winter. She did not have a direct sanction from Skate Canada to run the program, but she did so under the santion of a skating school that rented the ice from the club, which in turn had rented the ice from the city and allowed her to operate the program.

In 1999, the skating school entered an agreement with the club that gave the club direct control over the Spring Skate program and the club hired an administrator due to the increased number of participants. Collin-Knoblauch applied for the administrator position but didn’t get the job because the club wanted the same administrator for its winter and spring programs. It told her she could operate the Spring Skate for one more season and after which the club would take over the program.

On June 6, 2003, the club didn’t accept Collin-Knoblauch’s application to be a coach for the following year because she threatened to sue over the Spring Skate dispute. Collin-Knoblauch claimed this constituted wrongful dismissal and a breach of her contract as a dependent contractor as well as interfering with her income from private coaching for club members. She also said she developed the Spring Skate program and was entitled to the club’s profits from it.

The court found despite the original intention for Collin-Knoblauch to be an independent contractor, she had an employment relationship when teaching for the club under the agreement.

“The refusal to accept her application was a termination of employment as she had been employed consistently by the club for many years,” the court said. “As an employee she was entitled to reasonable notice of termination.”

It found appropriate notice was one term of the agreement, which the club had already given her.

She was not entitled to proceeds from the Spring Skate program, the court said, because she could not teach it herself without the Skate Canada sanction from the skating school. The club had the right to resume operation of the program without keeping her to run it.

The court found the club’s decision to take over the Spring Skate and not to renew her contract were not made in bad faith nor was it responsible for her income from private coaching, which she earned as a private contractor. See Collin-Knoblauch v. Oakville Skating Club, 2008 CarswellOnt 6792 (Ont. S.C.J.).

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