Greater Victoria School District trustees Diane McNally and Rob Paynter have taken legal action over being suspended from their duties until October for misconduct relating to bullying and harassment complaints. (Black Press Media file photos)

Greater Victoria School District trustees Diane McNally and Rob Paynter have taken legal action over being suspended from their duties until October for misconduct relating to bullying and harassment complaints. (Black Press Media file photos)

Victoria school board lawyer says suspensions needed to ensure bullying ended

Civil suit pushed by suspended trustees sees final day in court Friday

As civil proceedings into the suspension of two Greater Victoria school trustees wrapped up, the school board’s lawyer aimed to prove the two officials lacked remorse for their actions.

Trustees Diane McNally and Rob Paynter are looking to be reinstated after the Greater Victoria School District board passed a resolution to suspend them in February over harassment and bullying complaints.

On the three-day review’s final day, SD61 lawyer Rod Sieg on Friday sought to show the board’s decision was a proportionate and reasonable response to the trustees’ conduct – and that it was necessary to ensure an end to the bullying behaviour.

In one example, he brought up how Paynter looked to reconcile by offering to remove controversial social media posts and discussed issuing a formal retraction.

“However, at no time does trustee Paynter go on to say he will not make further public comments,” Sieg said.

Sieg then pointed to a statement where Paynter acknowledged two complainants “felt” his actions resulted in harassment and bullying. Only expressing regret for how the complainants felt and not the conduct itself meant Paynter never indicated that he shouldn’t have acted how he did, the lawyer said.

“This is, I think, telling evidence of how trustee Paynter viewed his conduct,” Sieg said.

“In my submission, the bullying and harassment regulation and requirements under the Workers Compensation Act have nothing to do with how the victims of the harassment feel, it is all about preventing the bullying and there is nothing in (Paynter’s) response that indicates that those acts would cease.”

READ: Elected officials can’t unelect other officials, says Greater Victoria trustee’s lawyer

In its decision to suspend, the board said of McNally, “you refused to accept that your public denigration of board staff is improper and exposes the board to potential liability.”

That was an “entirely reasonable conclusion to come to” as the board reached the conclusion that the bullying and harassment would continue, Sieg said.

He also took issue with McNally’s claim that her suspension should be quashed over procedural unfairness. In one example, the trustee points to how she wasn’t notified suspension was being considered going into a meeting about her conduct.

The board had to wait for the findings of a third-party investigator’s report before deciding what direction to take, Sieg said, adding that it would’ve been improper for the board to make any preliminary determinations about what might happen. Only after seeing the report did the board know there was “ongoing and egregious bullying and harassment,” Sieg said.

READ: Civil suit over Greater Victoria school trustees’ suspensions gets underway

READ: Greater Victoria trustees’ suspensions result of disparaging Twitter comments, board chair says


jake.romphf@blackpress.ca. Follow us on Instagram.
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