Greater Victoria administrators file civil suit to overturn suspensions – Vancouver Island Free Daily
Two suspended Greater Victoria School District board trustees have filed civil suits to seek reinstatement, claiming their punishment for derogatory comments on Twitter against district staff was unreasonable and unfair.
The District announced its decision to censure and suspend administrators Diane McNally and Rob Paynter on February 11, noting that a third-party investigation supported complaints by two summer 2021 staff members of harassment and bullying by two administrators.
McNally and Paynter’s civil lawsuits, filed separately on Feb. 28, are both against the SD61 school board and seek that the suspensions be overturned.
Their civil arguments reject the idea that the board has the legal power to effectively remove them from office, given that their suspensions last until October, when elections for directors are due to take place. However, both claim that even if the council has such power, the penalties are disproportionate and unreasonable responses to their conduct.
The two civil suits indicate that the trustees’ conduct fails to meet the proper standards and procedures not followed — as set out in the School Act — to disqualify or remove an elected trustee from office.
Paynter’s claim says the board failed in its duty to maintain procedural fairness by “failing to give him the opportunity to properly respond to the claims made against him.”
Likewise, McNally’s lawsuit claims procedural fairness was breached because the board conducted the investigation unfairly and failed to give her an adequate opportunity to respond to the allegations against her.
Both court documents challenge the fairness of the council’s handling of the situation after receiving the third-party report in January, as well as the investigation itself. McNally, for example, says she was willing to participate in the investigation, but her request to meet with the investigator went unanswered. She also claims that she received no indication that she might be suspended at the time of the invitation to investigate.
Paynter’s claim says the board did not specify that it was considering suspending him and relied on “an evolving set of reasons to support its decision.” The board justified its suspension based on the findings of the investigator, but its decision was also inspired by conduct prior to the investigation and was unrelated to it, the complaint adds.
In the event the courts find that the board’s decision should be reconsidered, McNally and Paynter’s lawsuits also ask that the court ensure that any subsequent sanction does not effectively prevent them from carrying out their duties as trustees.
In a five-page letter posted on the district’s website Feb. 24, council chairman Ryan Painter wrote that there had been issues of inappropriate interactions between directors and district staff since the last election of the council at the end of 2018.
In May 2021, concerns were raised again about administrators using social media to disparage employees, including the superintendent, who later left the district. McNally and Paynter’s tweets were part of that concern, Painter wrote.
Their suspensions came following July 2021 complaints, one from district secretary-treasurer Kim Morris of bullying and harassment via derogatory comments made on social media, and a separate complaint from an unnamed staff member.
Painter said the decision was consistent with the Workers’ Compensation Act and its obligation to protect employees from bullying and harassing behavior.
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