Woodley loses in court
Judgment says the school district followed correct procedure

Dawn Ostrem
Northern News Services

Yellowknife (May 10/00) - The public school district followed proper procedures in the firing of former superintendent Dr. Kenneth Woodley, the Supreme Court ruled May 5.

"In all the circumstances, and considering that the board could dismiss (Woodley) either with or without cause under his contract, I find that the procedure followed, while perhaps not perfect, was fair," wrote Justice Virginia Schuler in her judgment. released last Friday.

On March 22 and 23, Woodley's application for a judicial review of the procedures involved in his dismissal was heard by Yellowknife Supreme Court.

He and lawyer Austin Marshall say they intend to appeal the ruling as well as file a wrongful dismissal suit on the grounds that the reasons he was fired are invalid. The suit Woodley lost concerned the procedure by which he was dismissed.

"Obviously I was disappointed with the judge's ruling about the application of process and whether or not it had been fair," Woodley said Monday, "but beyond that there's the whole idea of wrongful dismissal and we'll be moving into that kind of suit."

The civil suit stems from his dismissal last October. The district said he failed to inform the board he was using district funds to pay Marshall while arguing his suspension from the district in June 1999.

Woodley fought the suspension and won in October.

The board alleges he also failed to tell them he had offered to settle a court case involving parent Laurie Sarkadi.

Woodley filed a libel and defamation lawsuit against Sarkadi for talking to a CJDC reporter about the district's handling of child-abuse allegations. That suit is ongoing but Marshall said it has been hampered by the dismissal issue.

The board originally supported Woodley in his effort, but after a public outcry, stopped funding the case in May 1999.

In an Oct. 19, 1999 letter outlining the reason for Woodley's dismissal, the board said he authorized a breach of the child-abuse protocol and the Child Welfare Act when he had a district employee consult management before reporting an allegation of child abuse to Health and Social Services.

The district also fired Woodley on the grounds of insubordination.

Marshall expects Woodley's appeal to be heard this fall, but cannot estimate a date for the wrongful dismissal suit.

"This all comes out of the same problem but there are different remedies involved," he said. "The appeal is meant to deal with the unfairness of the process and Dr. Woodley wants to clear his name."

Marshall said the judicial review of firing proceedings was filed before a suit related to the allegations for which he was fired because, if it had been successful, Woodley could have returned to work and restored his reputation.

Marshall and Woodley feel they have grounds to win the appeal and the wrongful dismissal suit because new facts were brought up during the latest hearing.

They say that, at the board's meeting to decide on Woodley's dismissal, board members had pre-judged him before voting on his termination.

This included the chair, according to Marshall, who, when the meeting went in camera, was present by telephone.

"This bias is a flaw that would lead to the quashing of the decision," he said. "The board stated he did not participate."

Marshall added there is concern over Woodley's letter of dismissal, which he said was written by the chair but signed by the vice-chair.

Woodley was suspended with pay in June but was reinstated with the district after an Oct. 6, 1999 hearing ruled the suspension was unfair because Woodley wasn't given a chance to answer the allegations against him.

However, Schuler said the board could continue with dismissal proceedings as long as Woodley was given a chance to respond to the board. He responded in writing on Oct. 15.

The board fired him and that's when Woodley made an application for a judicial review of the district's decision.

In ruling in favour of the district, Schuler wrote in the reasons for judgment, "the issue on this application is not whether (the district) had cause to dismiss (Woodley) or whether it made the right decision. The issue is whether the procedure it used was fair."