Dec 20

DeBon v Hillfield Strathallan College: Court highlights need to look from “dispassionate perspective” in assessing poisonous working environment

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Earlier this year in DeBon v Hillfield Strathallan College, 2019 ONCA 409, Ontario’s highest court released a decision supporting a motion judge’s decision to dismiss a teacher’s claim for constructive dismissal.

In summary, Ms. DeBon’s claim for constructive dismissal involved the school’s intervention or lack thereof in her relationships with students, parents and grades she assigned. The principal of the school intervened in increasing student grades on two occasions and had Ms. DeBon’s marking of another student co-marked by another teacher due to an altercation between the teacher, and a student and their parents, which Ms. DeBon felt was harassing. Ms. DeBon felt her job was in jeopardy and claimed constructive dismissal.

The Defendant, the school brought a motion for summary judgement to dismiss the teacher’s claim for constructive dismissal.

What is the test for constructive dismissal?

The motion’s judge outlined the test for constructive dismissal as it is laid out in Potter v New Brunswick Legal Aid Services, 2015 SCC 10 (CanLII):

  1. Was the employer’s conduct, by single act or through series of acts, demonstrates the employer’s intention to no longer be bound by the employment contract?
  2. Is the breach sufficiently series that the employee has been constructively dismissed

Both steps in the test are to be viewed objectively through the lens of a reasonable person in the same circumstances as the employee.

What constructive dismissal made out in this case?

While the Court acknowledges the unpleasantness of some of the instances Ms. DeBon had to deal with as a teacher, it was ultimately found that there was no express or implied term of her employment that was altered, changed or ignored. The Court also found that a ‘dispassionate’ reasonable person would not have found the environment to be poisonous. 

The Court of Appeal agreed with the motion’s judge and dismissed the employee’s claim for constructive dismissal highlighting “that a reasonable person with a dispassionate perspective would not view the teaching environment at HSC to be untenable” at para 8. 

It is unfortunate that the employee in this scenario not only lost their job, as she resigned to claim constructive dismissal, but she also lost both the summary judgment motion and appeal, presumably having to pay costs for her former employer’s legal fees.

When considering quitting to claim constructive dismissal, strategic and impartial legal advice from an Employment Lawyer is imperative as the consequences of an unfounded constructive dismissal can be grave. If you know someone in this situation, contact Monkhouse Law today for a free consultation over the phone.

Call 416-907-9249 today to get your free 30-minute phone consultation or fill out the quick form below.