Despite 'losing' an election, band employees still had jobs

New administration not required to make new offers

Earlier this year, the British Columbia Supreme Court spoke once again on that tried and true dilemma in employment law: Did they quit, or did you fire them?

Marie Phillips, 60, and Barbara Campbell, 39, were long-term employees of the Boston Bar Indian Band.

Phillips’ father hired her when he was chief, and Campbell was Phillips’ daughter.

In July 1997 the band elected a new chief as well as a new council member, Dolores O’Donaghey. Barbara Campbell had a standing personality conflict with O’Donaghey, although they had worked together amicably.

The day after the election, Phillips, Campbell and the outgoing chief, Julia Grafinger, were cleaning out the band office. According to Grafinger, Campbell suggested that they fill out records of employment.

They agreed that, for employment insurance purposes, they should state the reason behind the record as “job terminated.” They then sued the band for wrongful dismissal.

At the trial, the new chief, Yvonne Andrew, testified that she was surprised to learn that Phillips and Campbell had left, because she assumed that, as long-term employees, they would be continuing in their jobs.

She and the band contended that Phillips and Campbell had quit. Phillips and Campbell claimed that they were never contacted to continue their work and therefore they were fired.

The British Columbia Supreme Court has held that Phillips and Campbell quit.

They had not made out a case of wrongful dismissal, the court says. They might have felt that they were not wanted by the new chief and council, the court reasons, but the evidence did not establish dismissal.

The subtext of the case seems to be that the band was entitled to rely on the behaviour of the two ex-employees: They appeared to be indicating that they did not want to continue in the band’s employ and, although there was new management, that new regime was not obliged to renegotiate the standing employment arrangement.

Had Phillips and Campbell succeeded, the court would have fixed notice damages at nine months for Phillips and 1.5 months for Campbell, who had a shorter employment tenure.

For more information:

Phillips v. Boston Bar Indian Band, 2000 BCSC 84, Kamloops Registry No. 26046, Jan. 17/00.

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