St. Albert Catholic school board has spent over $367,000 taxpayer dollars to fire a teacher for being transgender

Why are taxpayers footing the legal bill?

This is an egregious misuse of taxpayer funds and it needs to stop 

Supplied Jan Buterman is a transgender man and a teacher. 

In October of 2008 Jan Buterman was fired from his job as a substitute teacher with Greater St. Albert Catholic Schools for being trans. There has been a long, drawn out legal case ever since. 

Progress Alberta filed a FOIP request for the legal costs associated with this case. According to that FOIP request the St. Albert Catholic school system has spent at least $367,188 in public taxpayer dollars on legal costs for this case.

Yes. That's right more than $367,000 public taxpayer dollars have been spent in order to ensure that a 100 percent publicly funded school board really can fire a teacher for being trans. 

The starting wage for a teacher in Alberta is $58,500. St. Albert Catholic school board could have paid the salaries of more than six entry level teachers for a year with that money. Conversely they could have just paid Buterman to be a teacher for the past six years and they probably would have come out even. 

Unfortunately the taxpayers aren't paying for teachers with this money. Instead the St. Albert Catholic school board is spending it on lawyers working as hard as they can to make sure Buterman never works for them again. 

Legal arguments and the long road to a judgement 

So, can St. Albert Catholic fire Jan Buterman for being trans? That is still to be determined. The case has been bogged down in legal minutiae and procedural handwringing since 2009 when Buterman filed his original complaint. The last time this story hit the news was in March 2016 and the headline talked about time and money running out for Buterman

“We have not gotten even to the investigation stage yet in my case,” says the frustrated Buterman, following the latest decision on March 17.

In Jan. 2014 Justice Sheila Greckol of Court of Queen’s Bench dismissed a St. Albert Catholic procedural motion and in her ruling she got to the heart of the matter

“Five years have passed since the school board terminated Mr. Buterman. The voluminous and continual retreading of arguments at the commission, as well as this application for early judicial intervention on thin grounds, has served only to delay the hearing on the merits,” Greckol wrote.

“Human rights process is not only for the lion-hearted and well-heeled conversant with litigation, but also for the timorous and impecunious – for all Albertans.

“The expeditious resolution of complaints becomes an issue of access to justice; justice delayed is justice denied.”

In the Alberta Teachers' Association's declaration of rights and responsibilities for teachers the following is written. 

Teachers have the right to be protected against discrimination on the basis of prejudice as to race, religious beliefs, colour, gender, sexual orientation, gender identity, physical characteristics, disability, marital status, family status, age, ancestry, place of origin, place of residence, socioeconomic background or linguistic background and have the responsibility to refrain from practicing these forms of discrimination in their professional duties.

Emphasis added. 

This declaration is a part of the constitution of the Alberta Teachers' Association. The constitution of the Alberta Teachers' Association is baked into the Teaching Profession Act which governs how all teachers in Alberta's public education system are to be treated. 

When you boil down the arguments that the lawyers for the St. Albert Catholic school system are making it is essentially that the rules do not apply and they can do what they please.  

The legal strategy of the St. Albert Catholic school board and their lawyers seems to be to delay the process, bully the defendant, say as little as possible and continue to appeal. Those strategies are perfectly fine legal strategy but we feel it's better to talk about their process out in the open. 

In the course of the case the St. Albert Catholic school board lawyer has also requested extremely personal documents from Buterman:

  • Copies of the birth certificates of Buterman's children.
  • Buterman's entire hospital file on his gender identity disorder.
  • All of the medical records from Buterman's family physician.
  • The entire clinical file from any psychologist, psychiatrist or psychotherapist Buterman had ever dealt with.
  • Any genetic testing results.
  • All income tax returns from the completion of his education degree to present day.
  • A record of all funds received by Jan Buterman to assist with gender identity disorder.

Abridged timeline of Jan Buterman's case

To get a general idea of the legal wrangling that Buterman has been through here's an abridged timeline of his case. 

  1. In October of 2008 substitute teacher Jan Buterman is fired by the Greater St. Albert Catholic Regional Division for being trans 
  2. After trying and failing to come at an agreement with St. Albert Catholic Jan Buterman files a human rights complaint against his former employer in October 2009. 
  3. The complaint is originally accepted and then rejected in May 2011. This is fairly long and complicated but essentially the complaint was originally accepted and then a newly appointed director of the Alberta Human Rights Commission "reopened" the case and summarily declared it to be without merit.
  4. At roughly the same time Jan Buterman refused to agree to a $78,000 settlement that included an extremely restrictive gag order. According to Buterman the ATA was in favour taking this route as they believed the money involved to be substantial. However Buterman refused the settlement as the terms attached were too onerous and in some instances nearly impossible to enforce. At that point, the ATA chose to stop representing Jan Buterman.
  5. At the same Alberta Teachers' Association lawyers stopped representing Buterman and before he had acquired new counsel, the lawyer for St. Albert Catholic directed a letter to Buterman personally stating there was a settlement that they'd worked out with his prior counsel and instructed Buterman to sign the enclosed covenants and send back. Buterman refused to do so. 
  6. Buterman acquires new pro bono counsel immediately thereafter. 
  7. In July 2011 Buterman's lawyers files an appeal with the Chief of Commissions and Tribunals in order to have his Alberta Human Rights Commission case continued. Buterman wins the appeal and it is decided that the case deserves a hearing. 
  8. In October 2012 St. Albert Catholic files for judicial review of the appeal decision made by the Chief of Commissions and Tribunals.
  9. The Alberta Human Rights Tribunal meets to discuss a preliminary motion on the existence of a settlement between Buterman and the employer 
  10. The judicial review is heard from December 9-11 2013. The judge reserves her decision to be published at a later date.
  11. The Alberta Human Rights Tribunal rules on the preliminary matter in January 2014 and two out of three tribunal members agree with the employer that a settlement existed between Buterman and St. Albert Catholic school board. 
  12. Buterman's lawyers file for a judicial review in summer 2014 of the Alberta Human Rights Commision tribunal decision on the purported settlement agreement.  
  13. The judgment from the judicial review is released by Justice Lee in March 2016. Justice Lee sides with the original judgement that there was a purported settlement agreement. 
  14. In April 2016 Buterman's lawyers file an appeal with the Alberta Court of Appeal on Justice Lee's decision. Buterman is currently waiting on a hearing date. 

This entire case is a shocking misuse of taxpayer dollars and it almost inconceivable that a 100 per cent publicly funded school board can waste our taxpayer dollars in this fashion. Jan Buterman is a teacher. He was not fired for being a bad teacher. He was fired for being trans. His case has gone on more than six years and the question at the heart of it - can a Catholic school board fire someone for being transgender - is no where close to being resolved. 

As Justice Greckol said, justice delayed is justice denied. Jan Buterman deserves justice. His case has gone on long enough and enough taxpayer dollars have been wasted. 

Let's make sure this never happens again. Sign our petition at http://www.progressalberta.ca/invest_in_students_not_lawyers