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UNIONS - Duties - Representation of members - Duty of fair representation - Scope of duty

Wednesday, April 12, 2017 @ 8:30 AM  

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Appeal by the Prince Edward Island Teachers’ Federation (PEITF) from a judgment finding it breached its duty of fair representation to its member, Lanigan. Cross-appeal by Lanigan from the decision not to award general damages. Lanigan was a grade two teacher and vice-principal until the school district invoked discipline that terminated her position. Following a dispute between Lanigan and a student’s parent that left Lanigan feeling defamed, Lanigan sent a letter home to the parents with the student indicating that she had retained counsel and demanding that the parents to retract their prior statements about her. Subsequent meetings with Lanigan’s employer did not go well and Lanigan was relieved of her vice-principal position. Lanigan then took a sick leave, following which she applied for guidance counsellor positions. Lanigan was advised she would not be hired for the positions due to her previous conduct in sending the letter to the parent. Lanigan sought the PEITF’s assistance, asking them to file a grievance regarding the loss of her vice-principal position and the employer’s refusal to consider her for counselling positions. The PEITF declined to file a grievance. Lanigan appealed to the PEITF executive, but the executive decided not to pursue the grievance. Lanigan sued the PEITF alleging she suffered loss and damages due to breaches of the PEITF’s duty of fair representation towards her. The trial judge decided in Lanigan’s favour finding that the PEITF was negligent in representing Lanigan, and that the PEITF committed further breaches of duty relating to the meeting and other events. Lanigan was awarded special damages, but general damages were not addressed. PEITF appealed the decision and Lanigan cross-appealed the failure to award general damages.

HELD: Appeal allowed; cross-appeal dismissed. The trial judge erred in law by imposing a standard of correctness on the union decisions. In addition, the trial judge also made errors in law by imposing a duty on the union (i) to provide a union representative of the member’s choice; (ii) to seek leave from an employer to file a grievance after the prescribed period for filing a grievance had expired; and (iii) by not considering the duty of a union member to protect her own rights and interests. Further, the trial judge made palpable and overriding errors of fact that affected his decision on each finding of breach of duty of fair representation. The trial judge’s findings of a breach of duty of fair representation were not sustainable and each finding was to be set aside.

Lanigan v. Prince Edward Island Teachers' Federation, [2017] P.E.I.J. No. 6, Prince Edward Island Court of Appeal, D.H. Jenkins C.J.P.E.I., M.M. Murphy and J.K. Mitchell JJ.A., March 23, 2017. Digest No. TLD-Apr102017009