Teacher learns lesson about contract terms: Get it in writing

A B.C. school board hired a teacher for an administrative vice-principal position with a one-year contract. She was told after she signed she could expect to be at the school with her contract ­automatically renewed for a few years. The court ruled there was no breach of contract when she was reassigned after a year as it was just an estimate and not a guaranteed term length.

A British Columbia school board did not misrepresent a contract length for an employee or breach its contract when it phased out her position, the B.C. Supreme Court has ruled. Anne-Marie Albert was employed with Le Conseil Scolaire Francophone De La Colombie-Britannique (CSF), a school board for French-speaking students in B.C., in the 1999-2000 school year. Albert held the position of vice-principal 2 (VP2), which served both a teaching and administrative capacity at each school. The teaching part of the job was a permanent position but the administrative part consisted of one-year contracts which were renewed unless the school closed, in which case the VP2 would return to a full-time teaching position. After 2000, however, one-year contracts were no longer signed and they were renewed automatically with the expectation the contract would end if the school closed. The CSF’s contract with the union for administrative officers stipulated if an administrative contract was terminated without just cause, the CSF must offer the employee a teaching position “mutually agreed upon and commensurate with his/her qualifications.” If the position was at another school and at a lower salary, the employee would continue to be paid her previous salary for a year. Though not specifically for the VP2 position, CSF applied it to all of its VP2s.

CSF told Albert the VP2 position was a continuous appointment to be renewed annually, though she initially signed a one-year contract when she started. Albert then took a leave of absence the following year (2000-2001) and moved to New Brunswick to study for her masters of education degree. In 2001, CSF offered Albert the VP2 position at a new school in Kamloops. The job offer indicated the teaching part of the job was a permanent continuing position though the administrative part remained a continuous appointment. The CSF assured Albert the administrative part of the job was also permanent. Based on this information, she moved her family to Kamloops and bought a house. After receiving a letter from CSF describing her VP2 job as a “one-year temporary position,” Albert requested a guarantee of five years. The assistant superintendent would not guarantee that term but indicated “the Kamloops school held good potential for growth and that she could expect to be there for four or five years” through automatic contract renewals, which was in line with the typical term lengh of VP2 positions at other schools.

Though Albert received positive reviews of her performance in both the teaching and administrative aspects of her job, she had issues with a new teacher and some parents over her methods. The CSF sent another employee to the school but there was confusion as to whether the new employee was taking over Albert’s administrative duties or just providing support. After things deteriorated, Albert went on stress leave from her teaching position on Feb. 4, 2003, but continued to do administrative work. The CSF accepted a doctor’s note indicating she was unable to teach and it didn’t request anything further.

While Albert was on leave, CSF reclassified the VP2 job as a “D5” principal position. When she returned, Albert was informed her issues with the parents were being investigated, she didn’t have a doctor’s note saying she was fit to return and she should go back on leave until the investigation was complete. She was also told the VP2 position was being replaced by the D5 and she would have to apply and interview for it. Because CSF’s policy did not require medical information to return to work, Albert assumed she was suspended. Though she provided a doctor’s note on April 4, 2003, Albert was told she could still not return because the school was now “stable” and the doctor’s note was “inadequate.” Albert applied but was rejected for the D5 position in Kamloops. After she pointed out they were required to offer her another teaching position according to the union agreement, CSF offered Albert a position in Port Alberni, B.C., at her VP2 salary for one year.

The court noted CSF’s requirement of medical information for Albert to return to work was vague and telling her to remain on leave during the investigation amounted to a suspension. It was clear Albert was then terminated without cause when she was told not to come back to work and she must apply for the new D5 position. However, CSF did not breach the employment contract as it was allowed to terminate Albert without cause as long as it lived up to the requirements in the union agreement. CSF continued to pay her VP2 benefits and met the requirement of offering her a teaching position at her VP2 salary for one year.

Once Albert accepted the position, it became “mutually agreed upon” and severance was not required. Although the court conceded CSF could have handled things better, it found CSF’s failure to follow formal procedure was a “technical breach of contract separately compensable from severance pay” and entitled Albert to nominal damages of $500. Although Albert was told to expect her appointment to last four or five years, this was an estimate, not a guarantee. The court noted this estimate came after the contract was signed and therefore could not be considered an implied length of term.

“There were no terms in the offer to Albert that explicitly stated that an administrative officer position was to last until retirement or until any other specific time,” the court said. “It is unreasonable for her to have relied upon any statement as to how long she could expect to stay in Kamloops.”

The court dismissed Albert’s claims for wrongful dismissal and breach of contract.

For more information see:

Albert v. Conseil Scolaire Francophone de la Colombie-Britannique (Oct. 19, 2006), 2006 BCSC 1529 (B.C. S.C.).

Highlights of CSF’s job offer to Albert

Anne-Marie Albert accepted the vice-principal 2 position in Kamloops, B.C. based on a job description with the following details:

Position description: Elementary instruction:
Kindergarten/Grade 1/Grade 2 and Grade 3
Vice-principal II*
Continuing position (permanent)


Contract start date: 1 September 2001

Contract end date: Not applicable

Competition start date: 26 June 2001

Competition end date: 3 July 2001

*This instructional assignment shall be combined with a school administration assignment (0.2 FTE). Only internal candidates with three years’ teaching experience will be considered.

To read the full story, login below.

Not a subscriber?

Start your subscription today!