Employee and sister fired after breakup with member of management

Boyfriend offered jobs, room and board to woman and her sister but dismissed them when he broke up with her

Two Manitoba sisters are entitled to be paid for the balance of the contracts they signed after they were dismissed when one sister broke up with her boyfriend who worked for the employer, the Manitoba Court of Queen’s Bench has ruled.

Nicole Kruk was living in Winnipeg when she met Michael Bailey in 1999. The two began dating shortly thereafter and Bailey, who was the comptroller of the Kinonjeoshtegon First Nation reserve north of Winnipeg, offered Kruk a position as a nursery teacher, since Kruk was unemployed. However, Kruk’s father didn’t want her moving to the reserve alone so Bailey offered Kruk’s sister, Michelle Walsten, a job on the reserve as the hotel and restaurant manager. He said the sisters could live in a house built for teachers working at the reserve’s school and he would pay their rent.

The sisters agreed and signed contracts for their respective positions in April 2001. The band council and chief also signed the contracts, as they had the responsibility of hiring employees. Walsten’s contract had a term of one year beginning April 1. Kruk’s contract, since she was a teacher, ran until the end of the following school year on June 30, 2002. The contracts stipulated accommodation would be available for $300 per month. However, the houses were full until after the school year and the sisters had to stay at the reserve’s hotel.

The band also bought a sport utility vehicle for the sisters to use and Walsten’s car was used as a trade-in. Walsten would have money deducted from each paycheque which would go towards her eventual ownership of the vehicle.

Once the sisters began work, there were no fixed hours and they often went to Winnipeg with Bailey to pick up supplies for the restaurant. In May 2001, the hotel filled up with construction workers and there was no more room for them. They were granted a few days off to visit their sick brother but, soon after, Kruk and Bailey broke up and the sisters didn’t return to the reserve. A few weeks later, Kruk received a termination letter which gave the reasons for termination as prolonged, unauthorized absences. The vehicle was also repossessed.

In September 2001, the band made an offer of reinstatement, but by then Kruk had returned to school and Walsten obtained a part-time job soon after.

The court found the sisters’ absences were not unauthorized, as they usually involved trips to Winnipeg to get supplies. There was also no accommodation for them, with the hotel and teachers’ houses full, which went against their contracts. The court said the true reason for the termination was the breakup of Kruk and Bailey, particularly since their relationship was the reason for their hiring. Bailey recommended their termination to the council because of the breakup, the court found.

“The more likely reason for the termination of the (sisters’) employment was that the relationship between Ms. Kruk and Mr. Bailey had ended and there was no longer any reason for them to be employed by the band,” the court said.

The court found the sisters were dismissed without just cause and should be paid for the remainder of their contracts — 13 months for Kruk, or $43,758, and 10 months, or $33,583, for Walsten. The band was also ordered to pay Walsten $5,760 reimbursement for the car payment deductions and the trade-in value of her car. Because of the circumstances, it would be unreasonable to expect them to accept the offer of reinstatement, the court said.

The court did find the sisters could have found work, at least at minimum wage, by Sept. 1, 2001, and reduced their award by their potential minimum wage earnings from Sept 1 to the end of the contract terms. See Walsten v. Kinonjeoshtegon First Nation, 2009 CarswellMan 187 (Man. Q.B.).

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