Union says school board violated provincial human rights law
KSB dumps veteran teacher, citing chronic illness
The Northern Quebec Teaching Association says the Kativik School Board violated Quebec's charter of human rights and its collective agreement with unionized teachers when they fired an Inukjuak teacher who suffers from a chronic medical condition.
The KSB, who says the teacher missed too much work over the past seven years, has also ordered the teacher's family out of their staff housing by April 19.
In a Feb. 26 letter, the union's president Patrick D'Astous, says the school board should "recognize that the decisions of the Kativik School Board are without foundation, both in fact and in law."
George Livingston, 51, has been with the KSB for 24 years, including seven years as administrator and five years as a vice-principal. He's battled rheumatoid arthritis, a painful and potentially crippling disease, since 2001.
Livingston, a beneficiary of the James Bay and Northern Quebec Agreement by marriage, has three children in Inukjuak with his wife.
But now this stable life hangs by a thread.
Livingston has received no income since Feb. 10, and in less than a month he and his family face eviction from their home.
On Feb. 20, the KSB told Livingston it had "no other choice" but to temporarily relieve him of his teaching duties. The school board said he missed too much work due to his absenteeism over the past seven years.
"We are forced to conclude that the probability that you will be able to accomplish your work on a regular basis as low," said the letter that Livingston received from Annie Grenier, the KSB's director-general. "The Kativik School Board cannot, without undue hardship, maintain your employment."
Due to arthritis flare-ups, Livingston has been off the job about 50 per cent of the time since 2001. According to the KSB, his time on medical leave has ranged from 19 per cent in 2004-05 to 93.5 per cent in 2002-03.
"The absence periods have a significant negative influence on our capacity to provide teaching services to our students in remote regions," Grenier wrote to Livingston.
Livingston's medical leave was also cancelled retroactively to Jan. 31, a date when the school board's medical expert, a doctor who lacked up-to-date information on Livingston's condition, indicated he could return to work.
Grenier temporarily "removed" Livingston from his duties.
"They're pretty much saying that because I am sick it causes them a problem," Livingston said.
The KSB's executive committee decided to permanently dismiss Livingston on March 11.
A clause in the northern teachers' collective agreement says that as long as a teacher is on disability, the KSB cannot dismiss them.
"What they did was cancel my disability retroactively thereby opening the loophole that I'm no longer on disability benefits so they can take procedures for dismissal," said Livingston. "Bang!"
But the worst was yet to come.
The move to dismiss Livingston was followed by a second letter on March 17 from Andrea Di Domenico, the KSB's coordinator of human resources. This letter gave Livingston a month and two days to vacate his staff housing unit.
"In consideration of the circumstances, you will not be charged any rent for the month of March and April 2008," Di Domenico told him. "You have up until March 10, 2009 to book your return flight south for yourself and your dependants as well as to ship your personal belongings."
Livingston said this letter, hand-delivered to his wife when he was not home, shocked him.
"It was really devastating after 24 years, after giving your heart and soul and being sick," he said. "It was putting salt in the wound."
Livingston said he can recall a time when the KSB was a caring employer, which offered him leave and travel when his mother was ill and then sent a large wreath to her funeral after she died.
But Livingston said his relations with the KSB are now confrontational. Before making a move to temporarily dismiss him, the school board didn't ask for more information and made no effort to accommodate him, Livingston said.
"Ironically, no one is more aware than I am of what a big problem it causes when I have to leave during the year. That's one reason that I have always been really, really sick before I left," he said.
Rheumatoid arthritis is an autoimmune disease in which the body's own immune system attacks the joints. Rheumatoid arthritis can cause extreme pain, fatigue and swelling.
The physical deformities it causes can make the most simple tasks difficult or impossible, leading to feelings of depression, low self-esteem, and helplessness.
Livingston's most recent operations around Christmastime involved injections into his neck to relieve pain.
"I'd trade 10 years of my life to be well again," he said. "It's bloody awful. And the worst parts happened when my kids were growing up. It's not been a fun thing to have."
The Northern Quebec Teaching Association has filed grievance on Livingston's behalf and will seek arbitration in the dispute.
The union proposed 10 corrective measures to the school board.
The union also wants the KSB to restore Livingston's rights and privileges and to pay him compensation for suffering.