Fired Alberta transgendered teacher rejects deal
The Canadian Press
Published Sunday, April 10, 2011 10:35AM EDT
EDMONTON - A transgendered teacher fired by a Catholic school district is rejecting a settlement offer because it would require him to keep quiet and drop a human rights complaint.
Jan Buterman says he will proceed with his complaint against Greater St. Albert Catholic Schools, which wrote him a letter in 2008 praising his abilities but dismissing him for not being aligned with the values of the Catholic church.
Buterman, who was a substitute teacher in St. Albert, just north of Edmonton, says the publicly funded school district can't buy his silence with an offer of $78,000 cash or a one-year teaching job.
"I don't want to be muzzled," says Buterman, who has worked as a teacher elsewhere since he was fired. "They don't want me to talk about the fact that they, as an employer, claiming authority from the Catholic church, have discriminated against me because of my medical status as a transsexual person."
Buterman says he expects the Catholic school board will ask the Alberta Human Rights Commission to dismiss his complaint. The commission has the right by law not to send a case to a hearing if a "fair and reasonable settlement" is offered.
David Keohane, superintendent of the Catholic school district, says the board has been working with the human rights commission to try to ensure the offer is seen as fair and reasonable.
"It is about how the commission is being satisfied with how we are dealing with the issue and the appearance of being reasonable," he says.
"Everything is completely reasonable ... given the absolute nature of how the issue represented itself, and we believe that we have been abundantly fair."
The Alberta Teachers' Association also appears to think so. The union has decided it will no longer pay for Buterman's lawyers, who have called the cash offer "substantial" and advised him that it's more than most employers would offer a short-term employee. They have also suggested that rejecting the settlement because of its confidentiality clause could make Buterman look bad.
"After dismissal, the issue of focus could then be on the monetary amount or types of settlement offered to you, rather than the nature of your complaint," the lawyers say in a letter.
"It is easy to imagine the variety of negative conclusions that could be drawn from it, including those that focus on the generosity (of the board) towards you."
Buterman, who is also a political activist with the Trans Equality Society of Alberta, scoffs at the suggestion.
For months he spoke out in favour of federal Bill C-389, which would have amended the Canadian Human Rights Act to prohibit discrimination on the basis of gender identity or gender expression. The bill passed third reading in Parliament earlier this year, but died in the Senate last month when the federal election was called.
Buterman says he has a right to speak out about the discrimination he faced.
"People like us have all experienced job harassment, job discrimination, job loss -- it is a common theme in the community," he says. "The only difference between me and everyone else is that I got mine in writing. I have no interest in pretending it didn't happen."
Dennis Theobald, a spokesman for the teachers' association, says the union doesn't believe a person should be discriminated against on the basis of gender or sexual orientation. But he believes it would be difficult to win a complaint under Alberta's human rights legislation.
"We have to evaluate the cases that we are representing and make decisions on prospects for success," he says.
"This is not a reflection on any change of policy on our part. It is an assessment based upon the way in which the law is written and these cases proceed."
While Buterman grapples with the Catholic board, minority sexual rights are being handled differently just down the road.
Edmonton Public Schools recently passed a motion to develop a policy to prevent harassment of and discrimination against lesbian, gay, bisexual, transsexual/transgendered students and staff. The board plans to have the policy in place by September.
Board chairman Dave Colbourn said there is no way a teacher in the Edmonton public system would be fired for being transsexual or transgendered.
"I would say the possibility of someone being fired because they identified themselves as being transgendered or a member of the sexual minority population -- that would be absolutely abhorrent, unacceptable and simply would not be allowed to happen," he said.
"I don't think a person's sexuality should be a determinant in their professional standing as a teacher. We are talking about ensuring basic human rights are accorded people regardless of their sexual identity.
"We are taking about fairness. We are talking about equity. We are talking about justice."
But the Edmonton board hasn't always been so open-minded.
In 1988, elementary school teacher Carol Allan told the board she was making the transition from a man to a woman. The board forced her out of her classroom job while school officials grappled with how to deal with her. The board tried to buy out her contract, but she refused. When Allan's lawyer made it clear she was prepared to take the case to court, the board gave Allan a job teaching adults.
Allan says she missed her old job, but stuck it out and was eventually allowed back into an elementary classroom. She retired after 31 years as a teacher.
She praised Buterman's decision to reject the Catholic board's offer.
"Jan, fight the fight," she said. "Don't give in. Don't say ... 'I'm not going to fight you. I'm going to be good and quiet and not talk about this. I won't bother you about this.'
"No. Fight the fight."