P.E.I. teacher appeals judge’s dismissal of her lawsuit

Jim Day jday@theguardian.pe.ca
Published on January 22, 2014
Scales of justice

A teacher is appealing a P.E.I. Supreme Court judge’s decision to dismiss her lawsuit against the former Eastern School District.

Jo-Anne Lanigan was seeking damages from the district after it allegedly refused her application for a job at the vice-principal level or a guidance counselor position.

In a decision released in June 2013, Justice Wayne Cheverie declined to exercise the court’s jurisdiction in the case because he deemed there were other measures in place to deal with Lanigan’s complaints.

Lanigan’s lawyer James Macnutt told The Guardian the basis of the appeal is that Prince Edward Island’s School Act expressly retains a right for a teacher to sue under an employment contract.

Macnutt spent more than two hours in court Wednesday morning arguing that the legislative scheme that was intended under the School Act to create a collective agreement was not valid and that it was not put into place properly.

“What has brought us to the Court of Appeal is that after we filed our statement of claim, the defendant, that is the (former) Eastern School District said ‘no, this statement of claim or cause of action was not valid - it should not proceed further,’’’ Macnutt said outside the courtroom.

“And the basis of that argument is that the memorandum of agreement provides the final dispute mechanism that she (Lanigan) did what she could under that agreement so she can’t go any further.’’

If successful with the appeal, Macnutt says the suit will proceed with Lanigan seeking special damages, general damages and costs arising from what he terms wrongful dismissal and constructive dismissal.

“The wrongful dismissal arose in the termination of her employment as a vice principal (at Donagh Regional School) and constructive dismissal arises in relation to several employment positions with the (former) Eastern School District for which she was eminently qualified...for which she has been denied,’’ says Macnutt.

Lanigan, who is currently a Grade 5 teacher at Stratford Elementary School, wrote letters to the parents of a student with special needs who said they had concerns about the level of help their child was getting because the educational assistant was in charge of Lanigan’s classroom for long periods of time.

In one of those letters, Lanigan asked the parents to retract comments they made about her and in another she told them she had retained legal counsel.

The district investigated and took disciplinary action that included removing Lanigan from her administrative duties.

Lawyers for the former Eastern School District argued before Cheverie that the court didn’t have jurisdiction over the case because collective agreements between the P.E.I. Teachers’ Federation and the district governed the dispute.

It also argued if Cheverie determined the court did have jurisdiction, it shouldn’t exercise it.

A lawyer is expected to reiterate those arguments on behalf of the former Eastern School District Friday before a three-person P.E.I. Court of Appeal.