McBreairty's Story

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He won his case, but CNA still holding out

My Qatar Redux post of January 20 prompted several comments from people who spoke in the college's defence. However, I did not allow anonymous comments on the post, in keeping with the policy I have established on this blog, so three comments were rejected. Nonetheless, there have been comments supportive of the college, from people willing to use their names.

One person who is critical of the College of the North Atlantic in Qatar (CNAQ) who is, in fact, suing the college right now has agreed to tell his side of the story here, on the record.

Some details of Peter McBreairty's case have been previously reported in media, though I don't think they have followed the story lately.

With a M.Ed. (Educational Administration) from Memorial University, and M.Ed. (Guidance and Counselling) from University of Ottawa, McBreairty was hired by the College of North Atlantic as the Director of Student Services for the Qatar campus in the fall of 2002. He was dismissed from that position on May 11 2003; with CNA claiming the dismissal was for cause.

After sixteen days of hearing evidence given under oath and receiving written submissions from McBreairty's legal counsel and from CNA, a Public Service Commission-appointed panel ruled unanimously in McBreairty's favour, with recommendations as to compensation. CNA has chosen not to follow those recommendations. In order to resolve the matter, McBreairty must take the losing party, the CNA, to court. That process is ongoing.

McBreairty, through an access request has tracked the money paid by CNA to the College's external lawyers working on this case. "That figure to date is in excess of $150,000 and the matter has not yet been heard by the court," McBreairty says.

McBreairty now lives in Corner Brook. This is his story, in his words:

You've set an untenable position for responses given that individuals cannot post anonymously. I appreciate that people should not be posting commentary if they are not willing to stand by those comments. However, if they sign their names and speak honestly about their negative experience, they run the risk of being fired. Therefore, you will only get positive comments. I agree with Vince Stack in that the job opportunity itself is quite remarkable. Interaction with the students from Qatar and many other nations; the opportunity to learn about other cultures, was remarkable not only for employees but also for our families. The prospect of traveling during holidays and seeing the other side of the world is exceptional.

However often the high of personal satisfaction, experienced by employees at the campus is offset by the low of an ineffective and unresponsive management team. This dichotomy came through in the employee opinion surveys of 2007 and 2008. For example, there is an overwhelming positive response to the statement, "I enjoy the work that I do" with 82% agreeing with the statement in 2008 and 79% agreeing with the statement in 2007. Yet only 35% (2008) agree with the statement, "Employee morale at the College is generally positive", with only 17% agreeing with that statement in the 2007 survey. It appears that there are a lot of people liking what they do at the campus but having significant issues with the actions and attitude of management.

I would like to speak to my own experience regarding discrimination at the Qatar campus. My wife was one of the first 28 or so faculty who were hired to teach in Qatar in July 2002. She had been with the College since 1995 and was excited to take on this new challenge. We moved our family to Qatar that summer and I took a leave of absence from my position in Newfoundland. In October 2002 I was hired as the Director of Student Services at the Qatar campus. In May 2003 I was fired for, "flagrant and deliberate violation of the College's policy and procedures on your part regarding the improper admission of one or more student candidates at CNA-Qatar."

I contested that wrongful dismissal through the government's Management Grievance process. The panel hearing my case ruled unanimously in my favour, making recommendations as to the conclusion of the matter. However, the College of North Atlantic (with the apparent backing of Treasury Board) has chosen to discredit that process and outcome, forcing me to move the matter to the Supreme Court of Newfoundland and Labrador.

After my dismissal from CNA, during the next two years of her contract, CNA executive, both in Newfoundland and Qatar from the President on down ganged up on my wife and harassed her unmercifully. They refused to provide her with her annual travel for our family to return to Canada in the summer, leaving our family stranded to pay for our own way home. They also refused to pay her way back to begin work in the fall of 2003. They attempted to force her to pay back $18,000 worth of MY business class travel benefits which had been duly authorized by my supervisor, approved and spent by me while I was an employee of the College. CNA did not even approach me to pay back that amount, choosing to go after my spouse for a fictitious debt.

Incidentally, now that that particular harassing action has been exposed, those who authorized the action now are quick to distance themselves from the event; but on that one, the email evidence stands. They evicted her from housing with just a few days notice. While she was on leave in Canada, due to an error on the part of CNA, they overpaid her for five weeks. When they realized their mistake, they (without prior notification or authorization) took that money from our bank account in Qatar and in that process had the bank account frozen so that when she returned, she had no access to money.

Mr. Stack, you might remember some of this as you shared an office with her. I suspect you may have noticed her absence when she was hospitalized in the spring of 2005. While she was hospitalized in Qatar, CNA cut off her sick leave benefits. By cutting off her sick leave (she had months of sick time accumulated from her years with the college) she was left with no income. She was forced to come back to work and was given the highest workload of anyone in the IT department. She requested accommodation from her supervisors as she attempted to return to work, and they refused to accommodate her. She sought assistance from the Minister of Education but he turned a blind eye to all that was going on. Here is Enid Strickland's (Vice-President Academic, Qatar campus) response to my wife's request for help:

"It is obvious that Eileen may be missing time for the remainder of the year. We have to bring in a replacement instructor. Since it is going to have a serious affect on the students with changing faculty, I would recommend that we put her off on leave until the end of her contract. I would go so far as give notice and have them leave the country, them staying here is only adding to the difficulties we are experiencing. She is constantly requesting documents from everyone that go back to the first year. There must be some action we can take."

I guess that there was indeed, "some action we can take" to have THEM leave the country. They were willing to terminate her contract because I was the one requesting information through the Access to Information and Protection of Privacy Act (my wife, to that date, had not made any access requests for any information).

Ultimately they refused to continue to employ my wife. The reason given for refusing to continue her employment was cited as a specific Canada Revenue Agency regulation which CNA declared dictated that she could not apply for further employment at the Qatar campus until she had been back in Canada for a year. Recently the Public Service Commission completed a two and a half year investigation and it appears that they have now come to the understanding that the Revenue Canada regulations referenced by the college do not exist.

I can certainly sympathize with the instructor referenced by Mr. Berry who was under stress and he and his family were tossed out without a care. In April of 2003 (weeks before any alleged wrongdoing on my part) when the President of CNA was planning my termination and that of a number of other managers and faculty she stated, "Don't think we should be gun shy but too many exec thrown off the ship has the potential to cause us real grief board will be jumpy, etc."

Yes, we were just going to be thrown off the ship. And what was her next statement in that email? "Peter is relatively easy did not come from the college." Apparently we were some sort of disposable employees, to be tossed overboard. Ms. Walsh's analogy is quite fitting because that is exactly what it felt like, adrift with little chance of making it to shore. Yes morale was a concern in 2003 as well.

I would suggest that if CNA has no problem harassing and discriminating against a long-time employee because of who she is married to, I'm sure they have no problem with discriminating against others for other reasons.

I would also note a recent addition of a clause in the contracts of employees which apparently allows them to discriminate against employees based on alleged actions taken by a spouse or dependent child:

6.1 CNA may terminate an employee without notice and or payment in lieu thereof, for "cause". For the purpose of the contract of employment, "cause" shall include:

a. any material breach of the provisions of the contract of employment and/or college policies, procedures or guidelines;

b. consistently poor performance, after being advised as to the standard required;

c. any intentional or grossly negligent disclosure of any confidential information by the employee;

d. the violation of any criminal law by the employee or his or her dependant's, including, without limitation, any act of dishonesty or vandalism;

e. conduct by the employee or his or her dependent's that is materially detrimental to the business or the financial position of CNA, CNA-Q or the State of Qatar;

f. personal conduct by the employee or his or her dependant's which is of such a serious and substantial nature that it would injure the reputation of CNA, CNA-Q and/or the State of Qatar if CNA were to continue to employ that employee; or

g. any and all omissions, commissions or other conduct which would constitute cause at law, in addition to the specified clauses.

This clause, like the employee evaluation process, is so open to abuse. This clause was not in my wife's contract but they obviously carried on as if they were justified in all that they did to her and they still maintain that they were justified. These clauses would never be allowed in a contract in Canada. It would be interesting to determine who authorized this discriminatory clause in the contract and if the Board of the College of the North Atlantic has sanctioned this blatant abandonment of the right of a person to be treated as an individual under the law. For those drawn in by the allure and abuse of power, this clause could permit horrendous practices with regard to employees.

Let's not forget that all of the employees in Qatar are employees of the College of the North Atlantic of Newfoundland and Labrador, our provincial College. There was a clause in the contract, or at least in the original contracts, that the contract is interpreted under the laws of Newfoundland and Labrador. The employees do not deserve to be harassed or discriminated against. All employees deserve to be dealt with honestly and fairly.

I guess that the money available to be spent on lawyers at CNA will need an infusion; I suspect that these discriminatory practices will not go unchallenged in the courts.

- Peter McBreairty

One final comment, responding to McBreairty's opening statement. His concern is correct, and I will allow anonymous comment from current CNA-Q employees if they are concerned about losing their job by speaking out. However, I will need to verify their identities before doing so.

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Recent comments

  • Mark
    July 27, 2010 - 14:53

    Why haven't any of the illustrious journalists who read Geoff's blog not investigated this culture of fear that now seems to exist Newfoundland and Labrador?

    Scared Shitless is not a valid answer.