The court awarded damages for mental distress after a student was unfairly expelled from a private school in Calgary

26. October 2010 0

Administrative law – Decisions of administrative tribunals – School boards – Expulsion of students – Judicial review – Procedural requirements and fairness – Natural justice – Evidence – Remedies – Damages – Mental distress

J.O. v. Strathcona – Tweedsmuir School, [2010] A.J. No. 994, 2010 ABQB 559, Alberta Court of Queen’s Bench, September 2, 2010, A.D. Macleod J.

The plaintiff, J.O., was a student at the respondent school, Strathcona-Tweedsmuir School (“STS”). The annual Christmas dance for students at STS was held at the Calgary Golf and Country Club. J.O. had arranged to attend the dance with her boyfriend, P.L. Prior to the dance, J.O. and P.L. attended at a friend’s house where they were served glasses of champagne and orange juice by the friend’s parents. The friend’s parents had also arranged for them to be driven around in a limousine for an hour. During the limousine ride, J.O. drank more alcohol and by the time J.O. arrived at the dance, she was very drunk. J.O. says that after she arrived at the Country Club she felt ill and asked P.L. to come into the women’s washroom to help her. J.O. and P.L. were seen in the washroom by Doreen Lougheed, sister-in-law of the former premier Peter Lougheed. Mrs. Lougheed believed that the pair were having sex and communicated her disgust to Mr. Addley, one of the teacher chaperones.

The morning following the dance, Mr. Addley called Mrs. Lougheed, who indicated that she did not want the school group back at the Country Club. The evidence indicates that Mr. Addley became concerned about the reputation of STS and the impact of the situation on the school’s reputation. Although two students approached STS to confirm J.O.’s version of events, Mr. Addley met with J.O.’s parents and confirmed that J.O. would be expelled.

The court noted that the Private Schools Regulation requires adherence to the principles of fundamental justice, and that J.O. and her parents had a legitimate expectation that J.O.’s misconduct and the dance would be dealt with fairly. The court concluded that the procedure followed in J.O.’s case fell considerably short of meeting the duty of fairness. Nobody at STS took the time to consider J.O.’s side of the story. J.O. was not given an opportunity to respond to the allegations when she met with Mr. Addley. Mr. Addley had placed considerable emphasis on the identity of the witness involved, Mrs. Lougheed, and was unduly influenced by the witness’ standing at the Calgary Golf and Country Club and in the community. STS took rapid action to protect its own reputation and sacrificed fairness to J.O. as part of that goal. Her expulsion was a miscarriage of justice.

The court awarded damages in the amount of tuition for one year, as well as damages in the amount of $40,000 for mental distress.

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