University accused of discrimination, retaliation

P.E.I. professors say they were forced to retire

Charges of discrimination and retaliation against faculty members who claimed wrongdoing by the University of Prince Edward Island (UPEI) led to two member grievances.

Barry Bartmann and Richard Wills — both tenured professors with UPEI — were denied applications for sabbatical in the 2014-2015 academic year. Both professors had previously filed complaints with the PEI Human Rights Commission alleging discrimination or wrong doing by the university and claimed the denial of their applications contributed to a pattern of discrimination.

The University of Prince Edward Island Faculty Association filed grievances on Bartmann and Wills’ behalf. The association
requested a ruling of punitive damages, an order for a sabbatical and other paid leave for both grievors as well as further remedies that would provide "full redress."

Both Bartmann and Wills filed complaints with the PEI Human Rights Commission after being forced into retirement. Prior to the fall of 2013, Bartmann had never applied for a sabbatical leave in his 26 years as a professor. Wills completed sabbatical leaves in 1994-1995 and 2001-2002 but was denied sabbatical leaves in 2010 and 2011, following his human rights complaint and subsequent reinstatement. Both
grievors received similar reasons for their sabbatical denial.

Pursuant to the collective agreement, UPEI’s dean forwarded Bartmann and Wills’ applications — along with others — to the vice president academic (VPA), who then forwarded the applications to the university’s board of governors.

While the dean recommended all of the submitted applications be approved, the VPA recommended Bartmann and Wills’ applications be denied. The board of governors voted to accept the recommendations of the VPA for all of the 2013 sabbatical leave applicants, including the denials for Bartmann and Wills.

The association argued there was an agreement amongst some members of the board that professors who had filed human rights complaints had "made things hard for the university," and that the board was not favorable to those individuals.

The employer countered it was typical for the board to unanimously accept the VPA’s recommendations. The human rights complaints of the two grievors were "not a consideration at all," the employer said, arguing the VPA took into account only the quality and feasibility of each applicant’s plan.

While the association agreed a standard should be applied to applications for sabbatical, it argued the standard must be applied in a fair and consistent manner. The association argued the surrounding facts made clear the employer was discriminating against employees who filed complaints against the university. The only two faculty members whose sabbatical applications were denied for 2014-2015 were Bartmann and Wills, both of whom had filed human rights complaints against UPEI. In the previous year only two applicants were denied the same paid leave, also faculty members who had filed complaints against the university.

The association’s claim of discrimination and retaliation was a serious one, said arbitrator Robert D. Breen, and one that called for a strong standard of clear and cogent evidence.

While there may be certain "doubts," Breen said, he was not satisfied the surrounding facts in this case were sufficient to discredit the sworn and tested evidence of the employer.

Considering, then, only the requirements for a sabbatical leave expressed under the parties’ collective agreement, Breen found no issue with the employer’s denial of Wills’ application. Wills’ grievance was dismissed.

The denial of Bartmann’s application — his first in 26 years — however, was found to be inconsistent with the collective agreement as well as the university’s acknowledged support for regular sabbatical leave.

Breen ordered Bartmann’s grievance be allowed and that a 12-month sabbatical leave opportunity be presented by UPEI.

Reference: The University of Prince Edward Island Board of Governors and the University of Prince Edward Island Faculty Association. Robert D. Breen — arbitrator. Murray Murphy for the employer, Donald Keenan for the union. Sept. 2, 2014.

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