A former principal of the Weyburn Comprehensive School, Wade Oberg, won his lawsuit against the Southeast Cornerstone School Division, and was reinstated in his position as principal by Justice M.R. McCreary of Court of Queen’s Bench, in a judgment released on Friday.
Justice McCreary ordered that the board’s process to demote him was procedurally unfair making their decisions void, the penalty of demotion was not reasonable, and Oberg “is reinstated to principal duties. The matter is not remitted back to the board.”
He was also awarded the costs of his application of around $8,000.
In a statement, Oberg said, "I am gratified by the decision of the court. This has been a difficult experience for me and my family. I look forward to putting the matter behind me and to moving forward."
Oberg was demoted in November of 2017 after an incident which occurred on Oct. 20, 2017, involving his daughter’s senior girls volleyball team at a tournament.
An investigation was carried out into the incident, with the recommendation that he be removed from his duties as principal, and that decision was upheld by the board of trustees after Oberg had a show-cause hearing.
Oberg taught for 25 years in Weyburn, and in his career was appointed as vice-principal of the Comp in 1997, moving up to principal of the Weyburn Junior High in 2007, and principal at the Comp in 2008.
Oberg filed a lawsuit against the school division, alleging that the decisions made by the board were procedurally unfair, and were substantively unreasonable, as in the punishment did not fit the crime.
In the judgment by Justice McCreary, the school board was found to have breached its duty to be procedurally fair in three ways.
The board failed to provide Oberg with sufficient details of the allegations against him, they failed to give him a fair opportunity to respond to the allegations, and failed to give sufficient reasons for the decision to demote him, which “affected him significantly.”
The justice noted that Oberg was interviewed after the investigators met with 17 other people who had information about the incident at the volleyball tournament.
The investigators alleged that Oberg had engaged in four types of misconduct, including conflict of interest (as his daughter was a member of the girls volleyball team), inappropriate use of authority, failure to supervise students, and damage to the reputation of the school division.
The failure to give him reasons for the school board’s decision to uphold the demotion also breached the duty of procedural fairness.
As far as the unreasonable penalty imposed on Oberg, the justice noted that the Saskatchewan Professional Teachers Regulatory Board also investigated this matter, and “it concluded that a significantly less serious penalty was the appropriate disciplinary response to Mr. Oberg’s misconduct.”
The demotion was not reasonable, said the justice, “in light of the facts found by the board’s own investigation, the relevant mitigating factors, the principle of proportionality, and legal authorities dealing with demotions of educational administrators for professional misconduct. As a result, the decisions are quashed as unreasonable.”
In one paragraph talking about the unfairness of the demotion compared to Oberg’s offence, Justice McCreary said, “Given that Mr. Oberg has no prior disciplinary history, ending his long career as an educational administrator on the basis of a single incident of misconduct, albeit one that is embarrassing, humiliating and regrettable, but nevertheless did not strike at the heart of his employment is not a proportionate response. It does not fall within the range of reasonable alternatives demonstrated in the existing law.”
The justice also felt this matter should not be sent back to the school board because “the only possible solution is to reverse the demotion and reinstate Mr. Oberg’s duties as principal. … Remitting this matter to the board for reconsideration serves no useful purpose, as the reinstatement of Mr. Oberg’s duties as principal is inevitable.”
Legal counsel for the Southeast Cornerstone is reviewing the decision to determine what their response will be.