Education assistant who set up OnlyFans account to make ends meet told to shut it down or risk firing
'It's not Pornhub,' says EA who says her school job just doesn't pay the bills so she sells adult content
A single mom from Maple Ridge, B.C., who works as an education assistant at Terry Fox Secondary in Port Coquitlam, took a side gig to make ends meet.
That's not unusual for "poorly paid" EAs, her union says. But Kristin MacDonald's extra work includes an account on OnlyFans, a paid subscription site known for custom pornography.
After complaints, the Coquitlam school board is demanding MacDonald, 35, shut down her adult content accounts on social media — including her OnlyFans account, deemed inappropriate — or risk losing her position helping special needs students.
"It makes me sad because I love the work I do helping students," she said.
Legal experts told CBC News this labour dispute is complicated because of the work that MacDonald engages in outside the school, and the societal stigma attached to it.
Shut it down or risk firing
On April 28, MacDonald got an email from school authorities warning her to shut down her adult content accounts — and keep this order quiet — or face discipline.
"You're directed to immediately cease all activity and to remove all online social media accounts including but not limited to Facebook, Instagram, TikTok, and OnlyFans," reads the email from Terry Fox Secondary School.
"Failure to do so may result in disciplinary action up to and including termination."
MacDonald took a job with the Coquitlam School District in 2015 helping special needs children and teens. She helps students with feeding tubes or blood-sugar testing. She says she grew up with an autistic brother and likes helping others.
The former personal trainer knew it was a risk to start a side gig by setting up subscriber-supported adult-content accounts on the 18+ platform under a pseudonym.
By June of 2022, she was offering spicy visuals for anybody for a $5.99 US (about $8 Cdn) per month subscription fee.
She kept it as discreet as she could, making sure school staff were blocked.
MacDonald says she needed more work to augment her income from her part-time school job — which is under $50,000 a year — to help support her family, including a young daughter. MacDonald is currently on medical disability due to a spinal surgery.
"There is a kind of desperation when you're making under $50K a year in one of the most expensive places in Canada, if not the world," said MacDonald.
"I don't make a livable wage being an education assistant."
MaDonald stipulates that she has limits and does not sell sexual services.
"It's certainly not Pornhub, I'll say that."
In public social media posts on Instagram she appears in bras and lingerie — never less than a bikini. These posts entice clicks to her OnlyFans account, which is only accessible with a method of payment and proof you are 18.
When she learned of complaints, MacDonald said she felt "bad" about herself, but then said it began to feel like discrimination.
After MacDonald spoke to the Daily Hive, she got another letter urging her to stop talking publicly.
She considered shuttering her OnlyFans account but explains that she needed the money.
"I started thinking about it," she said. "I'm really screwed if I take OnlyFans down."
School district, union respond
CBC News reached out to the high school and the district, which declined to respond.
"I am sorry but no one is available to provide an interview. Furthermore, the district will not provide comments on the employment of any individual," said Ken Hoff, the assistant director of community relations, in an email.
Criminal defence lawyer Guillaume Garih said that B.C. educators are asked in a document to "maintain the integrity, credibility and reputation of the profession. Educators are role models. Educators are held to a higher standard and are accountable for their conduct on duty and off duty."
But the B.C. Standards for Educators — which apply to people with teaching certificates, such as teachers, principals and superintendents — don't apply to EAs. A group of EA advocates are currently trying to push for B.C. to put provincial standards of practice in place for EAs.
An email warned MacDonald that the school had received an "adverse report" or student complaint, as defined in the collective agreement.
Randy Kootte, president of CUPE 561, the union which represents education assistants, said EAs are one of the most "poorly paid" positions in the system and often have side gigs.
He says this case appears to be a code of conduct issue. But, "I just don't see anything that she has breached within the collective agreement or within the district policies," he said.
The Coquitlam School District's code of conduct for social media says employees are responsible for actions that hurt the district's operations or reputation.
"Employees must remember they are role models within the community and must not engage in off-duty activities, including online and social media activity, which place them in a conflict."
Kootte says there will now be an investigation and MacDonald will be interviewed.
"They have not even asked her side of the story yet," he said. "We have her back and we are going to support her through this whole process."
Not the first educator facing this conflict
MacDonald's conundrum sparks legal and moral questions, wrestled with in the U.S. and other parts of the world.
Last year, an Indiana teacher named Sarah Juree was fired after launching an OnlyFans account to try to support herself, earning a reported $10,000 US in the first month.
In 2014, a 73-year-old Quebecois teacher, Jacqueline Laurent Auger, was dismissed from her position teaching drama workshops at the elite Collège Jean-de-Brébeuf in Montreal for soft-core porn she did 45 years earlier.
Two main factors will determine this case, according to one Vancouver labour lawyer.
Lia Moody, of the Employment Law Group at Samfiru Tumarkin, said it will depend on whether there is any connection between the employee's activities outside of work and their work in the school, and if there are any district policies that outline what's expected and the consequences for inappropriate online conduct.
Moody said in Canada employers can terminate non-unionized employment for many reasons, as long as it's not discriminatory. But MacDonald is in a union.
In this case, Moody said there's also moral ground to consider.
"What kind of moral ground can you really stand on when you're also putting these EAs — who do incredibly important work — into the position where they aren't earning enough money to live?" said Moody.
'Sex work is work'
Angela Jones, a professor of sociology at Farmingdale State College in New York, says this situation illustrates the larger issue of rampant occupational discrimination in any sex-related work.
"Societies and cultures worldwide continue to attempt to control women's bodies," Jones explained.
She says "sex work is work," and says OnlyFans work should be treated the same as driving for Uber.
"Should she be fired, the school is not protecting its students; they are sending a terrible paternalistic message," said Jones. "That not all workers are entitled to dignity."