Cost to fire a trans teacher: $367,000 and counting

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"Egregious misuse of taxpaper funds," says group

St. Albert’s Catholic school board has spent at least $367,000 in its ongoing legal battle against a teacher it fired for being transgender.

Progress Alberta, a non-profit left-leaning advocacy group based in Edmonton, published information obtained through a Freedom of Information and Privacy (FOIP) request Monday on what the Greater St. Albert Catholic School board had spent in legal fees in relation to Jan Buterman, a transgender teacher it fired in 2008.

Buterman was fired after he told his supervisors that he had begun the transition process to go from female to male on the advice of his doctor. He had been diagnosed with gender identity disorder, a recognized medical condition.

In a written letter, then-deputy superintendent Steve Bayus wrote that they had removed Buterman from the list of substitute teachers (i.e. fired him) because he was “undergoing physical gender changes from the female gender to the male gender.” The board’s teachers were expected to model Catholic beliefs, and Catholic teachings said that people could not change gender.

Buterman filed a complaint with the Alberta Human Rights Commission in 2009 alleging that his dismissal constituted discrimination on the basis of gender and physical disability, which is banned under the Alberta Human Rights Act.

The substance of that complaint has yet to actually have been heard in court, however, due to a long series of appeals and legal challenges.

The most recent challenge centres on whether or not the board and Buterman have reached a settlement. The board argues that it has, meaning the commission cannot hear Buterman’s complaint. Buterman argues that he has not agreed to any settlement. The matter is now before the Alberta Court of Appeal.

Duncan Kinney, executive director of Progress Alberta, said he launched the FOIP request about a month ago to find out what the Catholic board had spent on the Buterman case.

“Taxpayers in St. Albert and across Alberta deserve to know how much the St. Albert Catholic school board is spending for firing a teacher for being transgender,” he said.

The bill so far is $367,188 not including GST, Kinney found. He said he suspects the true cost may be higher, as the board did not list costs for 2014-2016 (years in which various hearings and rulings did occur in this case).

“This is an egregious misuse of taxpayers’ funds,” he said – funds that should be invested in teachers and students.

Kinney said that this cash was enough to hire six rookie teachers for a year, assuming a starting wage of $58,500. He said he was not sure why the board would spend so much money on this case.

“As a publicly-funded school board, there are definitely questions they have to answer.”

Board superintendent David Keohane and board chair Noreen Radford said they could not comment on this matter as it was before the courts.

Kristopher Wells of the University of Alberta’s Institute for Sexual Minority Studies and Services called this “a shocking misuse of funds” that the board had to account for publicly.

“How can they possibly justify diverting that money out of the classroom to fund what many people feel is a discriminatory act?”

The Catholic board has argued in court that it runs denominational schools with the constitutional right to provide religious instruction, and that it could fire teachers for denominational reasons.

Buterman argued that the board was still a publicly-funded organization created by provincial law.

Buterman said this case has wide implications that could affect public institutions that are run by religious organizations and the many people he had met who had been fired for being transgender.

Wells said it should not be acceptable for a public institution to use religion to openly discriminate against vulnerable persons.

“Why won’t they allow a transgender teacher to teach in St. Albert schools?”

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Kevin Ma

Kevin Ma joined the St. Albert Gazette in 2006. He writes about Sturgeon County, education, the environment, agriculture, science and aboriginal affairs. He also contributes features, photographs and video.