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Arseneault c. Sacred Heart School of Montreal

2011 QCCS 2797

JB 3083












JUNE 8, 2011






















[1]           The Plaintiffs are suing Defendants for damages resulting from their wrongful dismissal.

[2]           The proof establishes:  that Ms Arseneault was first hired by the school in 1989 as a resource person specialized in dramatic arts and taught there until 2000 when, after having been denied a leave of absence by Ms Brooks, she was forced to leave.

[3]           In 2003, Ms Brooks contacted Ms Arseneault and asked her to come back to teach dramatic arts, which she did after complying with Ms Brooks' request to send an application as an advertisement had been published and with the understanding that she would have a minimum load of 60 % to make it worth her while to come from Hudson.

[4]           She then taught drama and media until 2008 when her contract was not renewed as per the letter she received on April 23, 2008[1] which reads:


"Dear Irene,

This letter confirms that due to current regulations regarding employment in the General Education sector, only employees with a valid teaching permit or in the process of completing the prescribed education program leading to a teaching diploma may be employed as a teacher.

Therefore, your contract will come to an end upon the expiry of its term
on June 30th, 2008.  You will continue to receive your regular pay up to
August 21, 2008 as per standard pay practices.

We would like to thank you for your service to the School and wish you all the very best in your future endeavors.



Elaine Brooks



[5]           Ms Mauri started teaching French and Italian at the school in 2001 until 2008 when her contract was not renewed as per the letter she received April 15, 2008[2] which reads:


"Dear Sylvia,

This is to confirm the discussion with you on April 15, 2008 regarding the upcoming academic year.

As outlined to you, the decrease in enrollment has necessitated both academic restructuring and cost reduction initiatives, resulting in a decrease in staffing needs.  In consequence, the School is not in a position to offer you a new contract for 2008-2009.

Your contract will therefore come to an end upon the expiry of its term on June 30, 2008.  You will continue to receive your regular pay up to August 21, 2008 as per standard pay practices.

We thank you for your services and wish you all the success in your future endeavors.  In the meantime, we are confident that you will continue to perform your duties and responsibilities with the utmost professionalism.



Elaine Brooks





[6]           Ms Arseneault testified that the trouble started in June 2007 at a faculty meeting where pay equity was on the agenda.  Ms Brooks announced that the school had gotten a small amount which if distributed would amount to $20.00 per person which does not warrant the exercise and she suggested that the staff should make it as a gift to the school.

[7]           As the teachers had friends in other schools that had received substantial amounts in pay equity, they formed an ad hoc pay equity committee to research what the school had received.

[8]           They found out that the school had received $40,964.00, which would amount to much more than $20.00 per teacher.

[9]           Ms Arseneault and Ms Mauri were part of the ad hoc committee, which remained anonymous for fear of retribution by the administration.  The ad hoc committee sent a letter to Ms Brooks on September 4, 2007[3] which remained unanswered and read:


"Dear Mrs. Brooks,

Concerned teachers and former faculty of the Sacred Heart School of Montreal, following conversations with a representative of the Commission de L’Equite Salariale, have been informed that the school has not conformed to the requirements of the Pay Equity Act.  As well, the representative urged the employees of this institution to file a complaint with the Commission de L’Equite Salariale.

As a result, we have begun to accumulate information to better understand our rights within this process and have opted to address the issue directly with the administration of the school.

Based on the minimal information that has been presented by the administration at the June and August 2007 faculty meetings and the absence of posted information required by the Pay Equity Act, we request a meeting whereby the administration will disclose all the relevant information (amounts received, calculation grid etc.) and also give its employees an opportunity to form a
Pay Equity Committee.  All present and former faculty and selected Board members would be invited to attend.

We would like this meeting to occur prior to September 28th (after 3:30 p.m.).
We request that the date and time be posted in the faculty lounge for all present employees and that former faculty affected by pay equity be contacted and informed of the meeting.

Should the posting not appear by Sept. 19th, we will interpret this as a non response and proceed with further action.


The ad hoc Committee on Pay Equity for the Sacred Heart School of Montreal"


[10]        The committee then wrote to the board, which did not answer the letter, but two weeks later the teachers received their pay equity cheques.  Ms Mauri received $1,100.00 and Ms Arseneault over $700.00.

[11]        Ms Arseneault stated that following these events the climate deteriorated, people felt they were watched.

[12]        Ms Gendron, a teacher, read a note written by Ms Arseneault at a faculty meeting which she could not attend, following which Ms Gendron received an anonymous letter[4] which reads:


"They know Irene and Sylvia are behind the letters.  Those two put you out on a limb and now they will saw it off to save themselves.  I don’t trust anyone in this anymore.  You let them use you and make you a prime suspect in front of everyone to get themselves off the hook.  I’ll do what I have to do because I can’t afford to lose my job over this."


[13]        In the fall, Ms Arseneault received an anonymous letter[5] which reads:


"Dear Irene,

It upsets me to have to write this letter, because until now I thought you were a decent person and colleague.  But I have found out that you are the person most responsible for destroying our sense of community and our peace of mind.  You have hurt many innocent people who are not sure whom to trust and who worry that they themselves are under suspicion.  You had no right to do that to them.

The little charade you and your friends concocted for the last faculty meeting backfired on you.  You must have figured that if Paul Hammett posed as the fall guy for the anonymous pay equity "memo", everyone would believe it all to be the work of an outsider and gratefully put the matter to rest.  You yourself could not pose as the recipient of the memo, because that would have cast suspicion on you as the author of the anonymous letters that only Mrs. Brooks and the Board knew about.  You also obviously did not reckon on Mrs. Brooks revealing the existence of those letters, because you expected the Board to call her to account for whatever accusations you made against the school.  Instead, she showed that she has their complete support.  Perhaps they will act, after all, but not in the way you hoped.

I never asked to be represented by you or anyone else.  Maybe almost no one did.  You have spoiled something wonderful, and you have placed me in the awful position of having to decide whether I should divulge what I know.


A very deceived and disappointed colleague"


[14]        She went to see Ms Brooks with it who explained to her what it meant and ripped the letter in front of Ms Arseneault.  Strangely enough the letter was taped back and found its way into Ms Arseneault’s personal file at school.[6]

[15]        Early November she was called to a meeting by the assistant mistress, Ms Filipovich, in the presence of Ms Brooks and was told she could no longer teach the media course because she was not a certified teacher and did not have a tolerance certificate, but she could teach drama, which would reduce her load from 73 % to 50 %. She told them that 50 % was acceptable.  She then was asked to present her elective courses to the students in January.

[16]        She was surprised that the media elective was cancelled, as it was very popular.

[17]        In January, Ms Arseneault presented her courses to the students.  Then Ms Brooks told her she did not think she could hire her for next year; it was too risky because of her lack of teaching certificate.  As she had been teaching with her B.A. and Masters for 25 years and knew many teachers taught without a certificate, she informed herself at the Ministry of Education which told her that the school could get a letter of tolerance.

[18]        She testified that even though the new regulations regarding teaching certificates came out in June 2006, the school increased her teaching load the following year.

[19]        Donald Clarke, president of the school foundation and member of the board in 2007, testified that he had received a package from the ad hoc committee on pay equity and was surprised it had been sent to the board.  He had a meeting with Rosanne Del Torto, the director of students, who told him about her concerns about Ms Brooks and the way the school was run which was the reason she had decided to retire.

[20]        He heard about the event in the chapel and the criminal investigation.  The issues had not been raised at board meetings and the executive committee had not reported to the board.  The case was closed in July 2008 and a report had been sent to Ms Brooks.

[21]        He had a meeting with Ms Arseneault and heard her concerns.

[22]        Parents of Italian origin contacted him, as they wanted the school to continue teaching Italian.

[23]        The board had not been informed of the non-renewal of the contracts of Plaintiffs.

[24]        It raised enrollment with Ms Brooks and told her we should do something to increase it.  He asked for the 5 years plan.

[25]        He never got it.  He stated that: "The board was a joke."  He resigned in December 2008.

[26]        Don Belec testified.  He was director of development, fund raising and marketing at the school in 1998 and left after 3 years because of the management style of Ms Brooks.  He felt manipulated by Ms Brooks toward her own agenda. "She wanted her husband to come and see my work, which he did."  Mr Belec was a trustee of the foundation and Ms Brooks suggested that he nominate her husband to the board.  The chairman raised conflict of interest as her husband worked at L.C.C. (Lower Canada College).

[27]        He stated:


-        "She became abusive, she called me for interrogation, bullying, intimidating."


-        "She said I had trouble multitasking."


-                "I was being undermined."


-        "I was sad to leave the school."


[28]        He has been working at St. George's School since and was replaced by Ms Brooks’ husband when he left.

[29]        After he left, he once joined a demonstration of disenchanted parents and faculty of Sacred Heart who wanted the board to hear them.

[30]        Ms Brooks called his boss at St. George's to complain about his presence.

[31]        He is assistant head at St. George's and confirmed that they have had a teacher without a teaching certificate who had a letter of tolerance.  She was a specialist.

[32]        He has known Ms Arseneault for 20 years through theatre activities and then while at Sacred Heart.

[33]        He does not know Ms Mauri.

[34]        Peter Kousik, director of studies from 1996 until 2008, testified.

[35]        He was teaching at Sacred Heart since 1986.

[36]        As director of studies he had been in charge of the academic program, hiring and firing teachers, teachers' schedules, loads and personnel files until Ms Brooks came to the school and took them over.

[37]        He told Ms Brooks that Ms Arseneault did not have a teaching certificate but it was not a problem.  The Ministry said it was the choice of the school to employ teachers without certificates.

[38]        As of 2003, he no longer was responsible for hiring.

[39]        He was at the meeting where Ms Brooks said the pay equity amounted to $20.00 a person.

[40]        He stated:


-        "I was called to a meeting when Ms Brooks received the registered letter from the ad hoc committee.  She was very upset."


-        "I interviewed Ms Mauri in 2001.  I found her qualified, she fit the bill:
French, Italian.  We had a lot of Italians in the school.  She did a fine job."


-                "I was also fired for academic restructuring."


[41]        Sylvia Mauri testified she received $1,100.00 in pay equity.

[42]        In the summer of 2007 she had written to the Pay Equity Commission, which sent her documents.  She stated that two members of the ad hoc committee decided not to return to the school, only Ms Arseneault and herself were still at the school.

[43]        She related the event known as the chapel meeting where all faculty was summoned and told they were under criminal investigation because of the website: The Voice.

[44]        She taught Italian elective.  20 to 25 % of students in the school came from Italian families.  Every September at the open house she had the Italian kiosk and many parents were disappointed that Italian was only given for one year and started in the third year.  She would have 15 to 20 students in her course.

[45]        In January, the students informed her that there would be no Italian course in the next year.

[46]        In February, she was called to a meeting with Ms Morrisseau, her department head, Ms Filipovich and Ms Brooks.

[47]        She was told an anonymous letter had been received which could affect her employment.  It was read to her but Ms Brooks refused to show it to her. It contained accusations on her conduct in the classroom.  She was in shock. Ms Brooks questioned her for an hour as to who she thought wrote the letter.

[48]        She consulted an attorney who advised her to request a copy of the letter, which Ms Brooks refused to do.

[49]        She was called in by Ms Brooks April 15 to be given her letter of non-renewal.[7]  She asked for a letter of recommendation, which Ms Brooks refused to giver her.  She had 18 years of experience before coming to Sacred Heart where she taught for 7 years.

[50]        Sandrine Schreiner testified next.  She taught French at Sacred Heart for 2 years.

[51]        She stated:


-        "J’ai été bien accueillie par Mme Mauri dans le département."


-        "On a été convoqué à la chapelle, atmosphère très lourde, il se passait quelque chose."


-                "À la fin de ma première année, j’ai appris que mon poste était reconduit et celui de Mme Mauri ne l’était pas."


-        "J’étais gênée d’avoir pris sa place."


-        "L’année 2008-2009, tout a changé, ça a mal commencé, l’ambiance était insupportable, beaucoup de méfiance, sentiment de terreur, ambiance de travail malsaine."


-                "J’ai eu un problème avec une élève, je l’ai sortie de la classe.  Mme Filipovich m’a convoquée et m’a dit que ça ne se faisait pas de mettre une élève hors de la classe.  Elle a sorti ma fiche et m’a parlé de mon évaluation, voulant m’intimider.  Je lui ai demandé si elle me menaçait."


-        "J’ai décidé de ne pas rester à cette école.  Mme Brooks voulait savoir où j’allais enseigner, j’ai refusé de lui dire."


[52]        Louise Morrisseau, head of the French department until 2009, now simply French teacher, testified.


-        "Mme Mauri amenait les élèves à bon port, aucune plainte reçue."


-        "Avant 2007, je rencontrais Mme Brooks et je décidais quels professeurs enseigneraient quels cours."


-                "En février 2008, Mme Brooks m’a fait venir dans le bureau de Mme Filipovich et m’a dit qu’il fallait que je l’appuie dans ce qui allait se passer.  Je lui ai demandé ce qui se passerait, elle a refusé de me le dire.  Mme Mauri est arrivée et Mme Brooks a dit qu’il y avait eu une plainte d’un parent concernant l’enseignement de Mme Mauri.  On n’a pas eu de nom de parent.  J’ai dit que si on n’avait pas de nom, on ne pourrait pas faire de suivi."


-        "Je n’ai pas vu la lettre P-6.  Mme Brooks m’a dit qu’il y avait compressions budgétaires et que Mme Mauri devait quitter.  J’ai dit à Mme Brooks qu’il y avait la loi du travail pour protéger les employés.  Elle m’a répondu qu’elle la connaissait et de me mêler de mes affaires."


-        "J’ai dit à Mme Mauri que je n’avais rien à voir avec la décision de la congédier. Je n’avais aucune raison de le faire.  Je lui ai conseillé d’appliquer à L.C.C. où je savais qu’il y avait un poste."


-                "J’étais présente lorsque Mme Brooks a dit que l’équité salariale revenait à $20.00 par personne."


[53]        Rosanne Del Torto who had been at the school for 25 years, the last 14 as director of students, gave her testimony while chocked up, in tears.

[54]        She stated that at the faculty meeting where pay equity was discussed, Ms Brooks said it would amount to $20.00 per person, it was not worth the manpower to write cheques and the faculty should give it to the school.

[55]        Ms Brooks told the administration about receiving the letter of the ad hoc committee but since it was not signed she would not respond.

[56]        After the cheques were given the atmosphere, which had been tense before, got even worse.  They were a divided faculty.  People did not trust anybody, feeling being eaves dropped upon.  It was a very stressful time.  Some faculty were called to the office and asked about the pay equity committee.  They felt bad about it.  Marie Gendreau said it was an interrogation, she was very distraught and so was Rosemarie Bellechasse.

[57]        The meeting in the chapel was her worst day at Sacred Heart.  They were told about the criminal investigation, people were not breathing.  They left feeling harassed, belittled.  It was a tragedy.  They were all frightened.

[58]        She was present when Ms Arseneault found the anonymous letter, which accused her of destroying the harmony in school.  There was no harmony.

[59]        Ms Del Torto related that Ms Brooks told her that teachers had asked her that Ms Del Torto not seat in the faculty lounge, but the teachers’ names were confidential.  Later Ms Brooks suggested that Ms Del Torto be careful whom she befriended.

[60]        Ms Brooks told her that she was supportive of her every time Ms Del Torto’s name came up at the board meetings.  She resigned because she could no longer work in such an environment, parts of her are still fearful of Ms Brooks.

[61]        After she resigned, she contacted Donald Clarke and told him what was going on.  He said he would check into it and got back to her, advising her that others had corroborated her statements and he was bringing the situation to the board.  He also told her that her name had never come up during board meetings contrary to Ms Brooks sayings.

[62]        Ms Del Torto appreciated Ms Arseneault’s teaching.  She could handle the students; they asked for her, she was always a volunteer.

[63]        Ms Brooks testified.  She was head of the school from 1999 to 2009.

[64]        She explained that she was worried about having an uncertified teacher and talked to Ms Arseneault about it.  After Ms Arseneault wrote to her about letter of tolerance, she asked Ms Filipovich to looks into it and after receiving exhibit D-10 they concluded that they could not ask for a letter of tolerance as they had a certified teacher in the school with 2 years experience who could teach drama even though he had no experience, he would develop that experience while teaching.

[65]        As to Ms Mauri, the school was down one whole class in enrollment, they had had to cut the highest paid teacher.

[66]        She stated that the $40,000.00 received by the school could be used, as the school wished, did not have to be distributed to the staff, but they decided to pay the faculty and staff.

[67]        She denied knowing who were the members of the ad hoc committee.

[68]        Shawn O’Donnell, the new head of Sacred Heart since July 2009, testified that he did hire an uncertified teacher who was enrolled in a Master’s program.

[69]        Jean Filipovich who has been at the school for 28 years and assistant head mistress since 2004 praised Ms Brooks and stated:  "What a joy it was working with her!"  She agreed that Italian was very popular at school but that they decided to teach Spanish instead as more people in the world speak Spanish.

[70]        They also decided to promote "Initiation à la culture française" instead of art dramatique and the media course now forms part of the English program.

[71]        She met Ms Arseneault in November and told her they may not be able to hire her next year.

[72]        Carmen Savard from the Ministry of Education was the last witness.

[73]        She stated:


-        "Depuis 2008, l'art dramatique fait partie du curriculum pédagogique."


-        "L’employeur peut demander une tolérance d’engagement s’il n’a pu trouver un enseignant dans la matière."


-                "C’est à l’employeur de juger si l’enseignant a les capacités d’enseigner la matière."




[74]        Consideration of her various responses given at her discovery and at trial leads the Court to the view that Ms Brooks has exhibited a significant disregard for the truth.

[75]        On the other hand, the witnesses presented by Plaintiffs testified clearly and truthfully, corroborated Plaintiffs’ testimony and contradicted Ms Brooks.

[76]        Here are a few examples:


-               In her examination of December 4, 2008, page 21, when asked if she knew the outcome of the criminal investigation, Ms Brooks replied: "No, the file is still open."


Donald Clarke testified the file was closed in July 2008 and a report had been sent to Ms Brooks.


When questioned at trial on the matter, she answered that it was after her examination!


-        In her examination of December 15, 2008, page 10, when asked if she ever discouraged members of the administrative staff from mingling, frequenting, or befriending faculty staff, she answered:  "Not to my knowledge."


-        She denied having suggested that the faculty donate the $20.00, which she told them would be what they would receive from pay equity.


-        She tore the anonymous letter received by Ms Arseneault in front of her, telling Ms Arseneault to forget about it.  However, that same letter[8] was taped back together and found in Ms Arseneault personnel file, which was under Ms Brook’s control since she took over all personnel files from Peter Kousik when she joined the school.


[77]        The Court is persuaded that Ms Brooks rearranged the curriculum eliminating Italian, in order to get rid of Ms Mauri, just as she did not request a letter of tolerance for Ms Arseneault preferring a teacher without experience, in order to get rid of Ms Arseneault as well, just as she succeeded in eliminating others who withdrew such as Don Belec, Rosanne Del Torto and others because they could not stand the atmosphere Ms Brooks created.

[78]        However, as head of the school she could change the curriculum and she was not obliged to ask for a letter of tolerance.

[79]        Thus, although the Court has sympathy for what Plaintiffs suffered, it cannot grant their demands.


[81]        DISMISSES Plaintiffs’ action, but without costs in view of the circumstances.







Me Jean L. Bernier

Bernier Figlarz

Attorneys for Plaintiffs


Me Rachel Solyom

McCarthy Tétrault

Attorneys for Defendants


Dates of hearing:

March 7, 8, 9 and 10, 2011


[1]     Exhibit P-6

[2]     Exhibit P-6

[3]     Exhibit P-12

[4]     Exhibit P-2

[5]     Exhibit P-3

[6]     Exhibit P-13

[7]     Exhibit P-6

[8]     Exhibit P-13

Le lecteur doit s'assurer que les décisions consultées sont finales et sans appel; la consultation du plumitif s'avère une précaution utile.

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