First Nations band turfs councillor who rocked the boat

Court awards Wallace damages on top of notice after band employee was fired and subsequently accused of theft
By Ann Macaulay
|Canadian Employment Law Today

The British Columbia Supreme Court has awarded $24,300 to a woman who was fired from her position as health co-ordinator for the Alexis Creek Indian Band near Williams Lake, B.C., in 2005 then was subsequently accused of stealing laptop computers from the 600-member band.

Geraldine Solomon, 32, a member of the band, was first elected to its council in 2000 and held the finance portfolio. The other six members of council were directly related to her. In August 2003, Solomon was hired to be the band’s head-start co-ordinator. She wasn’t fully qualified for the position since she wasn’t a teacher, but she refined the position and oversaw and designed the program to teach children to speak Chilcotin, the band’s native language. Solomon also developed curriculum, wrote reports and proposals and obtained funding. Her position was not formally approved by the band council and she didn’t sign an employment contract.

The band signed an agreement with Health Canada in April 2004 to provide health programs and services, which included creating the position of health co-ordinator/director. In May, Solomon went to the band manager to discuss the overlap between her position and the health co-ordinator job. The band felt it was cost effective to combine the two jobs into one and, in September 2004, Solomon was hired as the band’s full-time health co-ordinator. There had been no posting for the position, no formal interview process and Solomon didn’t have all the qualifications for the job. According to the employment policy, none of the council members would have been eligible to vote on her appointment because they were all related to her. It was noted by the court that neither the chief nor councillors had any issue with Solomon’s appointment. She subsequently asked for a pay increase to $20 from $14.25 an hour, which the band manager approved without submitting the matter to council.