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.
By Jeffrey R. Smith
|Canadian Employment Law Today

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.