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Queen's University
 

Rezaei v University of Northern British Columbia [2008] BCHRTD No 46.

When can a university fire a non collegial professor whose behaviours are directly affected by a mental disability?

Facts:

The complainant in this case, Dr. Simiak Rezaei, worked as a tenure-track Associate Professor at the University of Northern British Columbia’s Computer Science Program. 

His initial appointment was from September 2003 to August 2006.  In February 2006, the University decided not to renew his appointment on the basis that the professor had not met one of the criteria (set out in the Collective Agreement) of “satisfactory contribution to the life of the academic unit”.  The letter of termination specified that Dr. Rezaei had behaved “in ways which are disruptive and which negatively affect the Program and that behaviour has followed a pattern over time”.

The professor grieved the termination but refused to agree with the agreement reached in March 2007 between the Union and the Employer. This agreement included a leave of absence, a payment and the professor’s resignation effective December 2007.

In August 2008, Dr. Razaei provided the Union with medical reports stating that he had mental disability which caused his disruptive behaviours at the university from 2003 to 2006. The Union brought the reports forward to the University, which refused to revisit the settlement. When the Union refused to grieve that decision on behalf of the professor, the professor filed an application with the Tribunal.    

Dr. Rezaei argues that three facts should have triggered the University/union’s duty to inquire whether he had a mental disability when he was working at the University:

1)      The outrageousness of his behaviour ought to have alerted the respondents to consider that he was suffering from a mental disorder

2)      A reference, made by a consultant hired to write to interview members of the department on the question of collegiality, to Dr. Rezaei’s narcissism

3)      A  letter written to the respondent in 2006 setting out possible explanations for his behaviour, including a childhood stutter

The Respondents applied to have the case dismissed based on the grounds that the applicant had no reasonable prospect for success.

 

Issue

-          Based on the information available before the2007 agreement, did the respondents have a duty to inquire whether or not the professor had a disability?    

Decision

-          No

Reasoning

-          Based on principles used in other cases, especially Alexander v Northern Health Authority [2008] which dealt with an employee terminated for similar reasons[1], i.e. non collegial communications, the tribunal found that the respondents did not have such a duty because…

  • The impugned communications   were not “so far out of the norms of communication among individual holding firm views on matters of dispute amongst them or so indicative of distress as to have put the respondents on inquiry whether Dr. Rezaei’s behaviour was affected by a mental disability” (70)
  • The consultant’s reference to Dr. Rezaei’s narcissism was not a given as a medical diagnosis but a lay description of the professor’s personality.  Moreover, the professor’s disability was not related to a narcissistic personality disorder.
  • Dr. Rezaei’s reference to a childhood stutter was not enough to put the University on alert. It was one of many reasons put forward by the professor to explain his behaviour, none of which included disability. Moreover, the professor’s disability is not related to his childhood stutter.

 



[1] “There are significant parallels between the situations of the complainant in Alexander and that of Dr. Rezaie. Both worked for large, sophisticated employers in jobs which were complex, demanding and required communication with others. Both were able to continue to perform their jobs over extended periods without asking for or evidencing any need for accommodations of any disabilities. The difficulties underlying both complaints included inappropriate communications in the workplace. Both were able to make articulate representations to their employers on their workplace difficulties. Neither was in a “vulnerable situation” in the sense of being absent from the workplace or in hospital. Both were represented by trade unions throughout.” (para 66)

Kingston, Ontario, Canada. K7L 3N6. 613.533.2000