Former teachers college employee to keep severance

A former employee of the now-defunct B.C. College of Teachers is entitled to severance after the provincial government abolished the body, held the B.C. Court of Appeal.

In Maxwell v. British Columbia, the court ruled in favour of Beverley Maxwell, the college’s former director of certification, entitling her to $312,545 in severance.

The case arises from the Teachers Act, a 2011 B.C. law that ended self-regulation for the profession and closed down the B.C. College of Teachers. Responsibility for teaching, as well as all debts, liabilities, and obligations of the college, were transferred to the Teacher Regulation Branch of the Ministry of Education.

Maxwell was offered a position with the Teacher Regulation Branch, but she declined it.

“This position is a demotion in a number of ways,” she wrote in a letter to the deputy education minister. Maxwell pointed to reduced future salary, holiday allowance, pension, and salary as her reasons.

Maxwell gave the letter to the registrar of the college on Dec. 12, a month before the college was expected to be dissolved, and told her she wouldn’t be accepting the position.

The primary question before the courts was when Maxwell’s employment was actually terminated; was it when she declined to take the job on Dec. 12 or when the B.C. College of Teachers was dissolved?

At the B.C. Supreme Court, Justice Ronald Skolrood, ruled that by Dec. 12, “Ms. Maxwell was well aware that her employment with the College was coming to an end on the basis that the College was going to be dissolved.”

While the Crown argued her contract didn’t explicitly foresee the dissolution of the college and therefore the contract was frustrated, Skolrood disagreed.

“It would have been open to the legislature when enacting the [Teachers] Act to address directly the issue of compensation for affected employees and to legislate the Crown out of the severance obligation,” he wrote. “The legislature did not choose to do so.”

At the B.C. Court of Appeal, Justice Edward Chiasson, writing for a three-judge panel, upheld Skolrood’s ruling.

“In the present case, dissolution was not the act of the College, but the effect at law was the same: the respondent’s employment was terminated without cause,” he wrote. “Although the College did not itself make the decision to terminate the respondent’s employment, the government’s decision to dissolve the College amounted to the same thing.”

Maxwell had also been seeking pension contributions from the government, but both the trial judge and the appeals court chose to only award her pension contributions for her severance period.

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