By Darlene Seto
It is an extraordinary situation for a faculty member to sue the university where they are an employee, as Haskayne School of Business professor Peter Bowal well knows. This past January, Bowal launched a lawsuit accusing the University of Calgary of wrongfully withholding salary and of a breach of contract as a consequence of ‘arbitrary abuse of power and discretion.’ Bowal won the suit earlier this month in trial court.
The lengthy proceedings finished Mon., Sept. 11 before the Alberta Provincial Court, Small Claims Division, taking over seven hours of court time. This followed the failure of the parties to settle the case in two previous court meetings.
While the case has been concluded, it seems clear that Bowal and the University remain at odds.
“The judge found that the university was negligent in payroll and that there was a breach of contract,” said Bowal. “The judge did not conclude that bad faith was not specifically proven–it’s hard to establish that kind of deliberate pattern. However, I did receive the amounts asked–my salary, my garnishee. As well, the university was ordered to pay three sets of costs [for the three court appearances].”
A statement from U of C Vice-President External Relations Roman Cooney reads, “Contrary to Dr. Bowal’s position, the court expressly stated that there had been no breach of trust and no acts of bad faith by the university.”
Each party to the case has 30 days from judgment to appeal the decision. Bowal will not be appealing. University administration refused further comment and legal counsel for the university, Peter Macleod, did not return calls.
“I cannot believe it came [to a trial],” lamented Bowal upon speaking to the Gauntlet. “The university never talked to me once about settlement. They poured all their resources into defeating this case, rather than just talking to me. During the trial, I believe the word the judge used to describe the university’s behaviour was despicable. And still, there have been no apologies.”
I still have fear that if the university is embarrassed by this lawsuit, there will be retribution,” he said. “You know when you’re marginalized. You don’t get requests for what you want to teach, get passed over for certain committees. Retaliation can exist in many different ways. You become invisible. You are the subject of derision and are distrusted.”
Bowal’s lawsuit stemmed from a situation in the 2001/02 academic term, when he was on sabbatical for a fellowship with the United States Supreme Court. After being notified by the U of C he was required on campus immediately in July, Bowal remained in Washington to finish his fellowship and this action led to the conflict.
A U of C statement reads: “the lawsuit was concerning matters arising out of a sabbatical leave that ended July 2002,” directly contrasting Bowal’s expectation to be on fellowship until August, with return to campus in September 2002.
The dispute led the U of C to terminate Bowal’s employment for failing to return to campus without approved leave, along with an assessment for almost $50,000 in salary owing.
His lawsuit alleged that it was only after current associate VP human resources Sandy Repic made unilateral decisions to change his leave to time off without pay that he was permitted resumption of his tenured position.
The suit sought salary and other amounts which were withheld, along with damages for breach of contract for bad faith and for breach of trust.
“There are the public declarations of the university of how much it respects its students, faculty and staff and what happens privately,” said Bowal. “We hear all the time people are the best part of the university. But in private, how are they treating the people?”
Bowal said he has received much support during his ordeal from students and colleagues alike.
“I think highly of professor Bowal, who is nothing short of an outstanding and honourable individual,” stated University of Minnesota law professor Guadalupe T. Luna via email.
“The university needs to realize that people would rather not fight, but walk,” said Bowal. “When somebody goes to a lawsuit, you should talk to them. The clamming up, the cover-up, the refusing to speak to the employee at all. I took my complaint to the Board of Governors, the chancellor, VPs, members of the BOG audit committee, executive committee, personnel committee–all years ago before this lawsuit. Not one even acknowledged receipt of my concerns.”
“I spoke to my faculty leaders and there was just no action for it. That was the wrong–to close the door on what were legitimate faculty concerns. It belied again how much we care about faculty and people coming through.”
Other U of C staff, including acting Haskayne School of Business dean Vernon Jones, former and current VP academic, Dr. Ron Bond and Dr. Alan Harrison refused comment on the situation. U of C Faculty Association president Anton Colijn, TUCFA grievance advisor Elaine Lohka, and associate VP human resources Sandy Repic also did not return calls.
Asked whether he feels vindicated, Bowal is subdued.
“I have to say no,” he said. “It is verging on the desperate for a faculty member to pursue this in court. And I don’t think there are any winners here. It was never my intention to teach the university a lesson. It was perhaps to get justice in this case, I suppose, even though nobody has acknowledged that anything wrong was done.”
Despite the ordeal, Bowal plans to remain with the university.
“I love my work,” he said. “I can’t see myself doing anything else. Our family’s home is here. I do have great joy in my career. This whole situation has caused me great sorrow.”
Bowal has taught at the U of C since 1991, earning tenure in 1995. He was promoted to full professor of law in 1998 and has been the recipient of several teaching and research excellence awards, becoming the first faculty member to win all three levels of teaching awards in the same year.