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British Columbia teacher’s human rights complaint dismissed

British Columbia teacher’s human rights complaint dismissed
British Columbia teacher’s human rights complaint dismissed

A North Vancouver teacher claimed that student complaints about “manspreading” were a “gender-specific insult.”

The British Columbia Court of Human Rights has dismissed a case in which a North Vancouver teacher alleged he was discriminated against on the basis of gender because he was not allowed to read student stories with sexual content, while a female teacher was allowed to do so.

In a recently released ruling dated June 5, tribunal member Edward Takayanagi stated that Shawn Stibbards filed a complaint alleging that his employer, the North Vancouver School District, discriminated against him because the school board investigated him for allegations of misconduct solely because he is a man.

He alleged that the board discriminated during the investigation process by questioning him about reading a female student’s stories that contained sexual content while not investigating a female teacher who had read the same stories; that the school district used the gender-specific term “manspreading” when it told Stibbards that students complained about his demeanor in class; and that it concluded that it was misconduct for him to discuss issues affecting women because he is a man.

This was the third time Stibbards accused the council of discrimination by investigating him over complaints of misconduct, Takayanagi said.

The accusations

Stibbards has been a district teacher since 2002 and taught English to grade 10 in the 2018/2019 school year.

In April 2019, the parents of a student in Stibbards’ class complained about his “lack of professionalism, lack of instruction and the content of his class discussions.”

They alleged that Stibbards sat on a desk with his legs spread during class, ignored boundaries regarding approaching a female student and pressured students “to engage in uncomfortable and inappropriate classroom discussions.”

On May 2, 2019, the board launched an investigation into the allegations.

Stibbards said he was concerned about the investigation and that he called in sick around May 8, 2019.

Takayanagi says that while Stibbards was on leave, a grade 12 student approached her on Facebook and asked if he would review some short stories she had written.

“Mr. Stibbards has read the stories and provided feedback on them,” Takayanagi said. “The parties agree that the short stories contain sexual content.”

During the investigation, witnesses were interviewed who raised additional concerns about Stibbards’ behavior, including that he had an inappropriate relationship with the student whose stories he had read.

On June 14, 2019, the Board provided Stibbards with an amended notice of investigation and on June 25, 2019, further details of the allegations it was investigating.

When he returned from medical leave, Stibbards was interviewed about allegations that he had made inappropriate, offensive and sexist comments during his classes that had nothing to do with the subject matter.

“The alleged comments were about the role of women in society, abuse, abortion, miscarriage, public executions and suicide,” Takayanagi said. “He was told that several students complained that he was ‘manspreading’ by sitting in front of them with his legs spread wide to expose his crotch.”

Inappropriate relationship

Additionally, he was told he had had an inappropriate relationship with a female student, during which he had engaged in inappropriate communications and shared inappropriate sexually explicit stories.

On March 23, 2021, the researcher reported to the council.

“The investigator found that the allegation that Mr. Stibbards sat with his legs spread was not misconduct. The investigator found that it was inappropriate for Mr. Stibbards to communicate with a student on Facebook while he was on medical leave. The investigator did not find that it was inappropriate for Mr. Stibbards to view the student’s stories, but that he had overstepped the boundaries between teacher and student by communicating with a student while he was on medical leave,” Takayanagi said.

The investigator found that Stibbards made a pattern of inappropriate, offensive and unprofessional comments and questions during his classes, which amounted to misconduct.

Before the council decided what action to take, it received medical information from Stibbards, which indicated that much of his inappropriate behaviour could be the result of a mental disability.

“Based on the medical information, the board has decided not to discipline Mr. Stibbards,” Takayanagi said.

Conclusions

As for the reading of the student’s stories, Takayanagi concluded that there was no reasonable likelihood that Stibbards would prove at a hearing that he was questioned solely because of his gender.

According to the board, the problem was that he communicated with the student through a platform that was not for work, while he was on leave.

“The board says other female teachers were not questioned about reading the student’s stories because there were no allegations that they had crossed the boundaries between student and teacher by communicating with a female student while on leave via non-work platforms,” Takayanagi said.

Moreover, Takayanagi said, Stibbards had characterized the term “manspreading” as “a gender-based insult,” but the evidence appeared to indicate that the investigator was simply providing details of allegations during the investigative process.

“I find that the Board has presented evidence that convinces me that there is no reasonable prospect that Mr. Stibbards will demonstrate that his gender was a factor in the alleged unfavorable treatment,” Takayanagi wrote.

Reporter’s Note: Until recently, the Tribunal’s decisions were available on the special website shortly after the decisions were made. They are now delayed, as they are posted on the Canadian Legal Information Institute’s website.