Teacher gives lesson in contractual obligations

School terminated contract one day after cancellation deadline

An Ontario First Nations reserve is on the hook for an additional year of a teacher’s contract because it told him of his contract’s termination a day late.

Sydney Fletcher, 66, of Forest, Ont., was a public school teacher for 33 years. When he retired in 2004, he signed a contract with the Kettle and Stony Point First Nation (KSP) to teach at its elementary school. Fletcher’s contract was for one year and stipulated it would be automatically renewed for the following year unless either KSP or Fletcher notified the other through written notice “on or before the last teaching day in May.” Fletcher’s contract was automatically renewed for three school years from 2004 to 2007.

On June 1, 2007, KSP gave Fletcher verbal and written notice his services would not be needed for the school year beginning in September 2007 and his contract was terminated. Fletcher contested the termination, saying his contract was not terminated by May 31, which was the last teaching day and as a result it was automatically renewed. KSP agreed it technically breached the contract’s termination provision but Fletcher didn’t suffer any damages because it was only a day late and he still had timely notice of the termination. He also continued to be paid until the end of August 2007. KSP also claimed it was a fixed-term contract of one year that began in September and ended the following August. As a result, Fletcher received more than two months’ notice.

The Ontario Superior Court of Justice agreed with KSP in that the contract was for a fixed term, so reasonable notice was irrelevant. However, the contract was clear in that renewal each year was implied unless notice of termination was given by either party by the last day of May. Since it was KSP who drew up the contract and determined the notice deadline, it should be held to it, said the court.

“Based on that experience (of the previous three contract renewals), it was entirely reasonable for (Fletcher) to believe his employment contract had been renewed for the 2007-2008 school year when he did not receive notice to the contrary (on May 31),” said the court.

KSP was ordered to honour the contract for the 2007-2008 school year and pay Fletcher his salary for the entire contract term, which totaled $56,200. See Fletcher v. Chippewas of Kettle & Stony Point First Nation, 2009 CarswellOnt 4589 (Ont. S.C.J.).

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