'Stand up, do the right thing,' urges fired school board employee over ethics flap

The woman at the centre of the ethics complaint against the head of the Lester B. Pearson School Board says that she was fired for being a whistleblower.

Chair of Lester B. Pearson board, Suanne Stein Day, denies breaking ethics code

Carol Mastantuono said she was dismissed from her job at the Lester B. Pearson School Board because she signed a letter accusing Suanne Stein Day, the board's chair, of breaching its ethics code. (CBC)

The woman at the centre of the ethics complaint against the head of the Lester B. Pearson School Board says that she was fired for being a whistleblower.

Carol Mastantuono was the head of the board's international department last December when she signed a letter, along with 15 other international department staff, accusing Suanne Stein Day of making unsubstantiated accusations and engaging in other unprofessional conduct.

"The slanderous and libelous remarks range from criminal allegations in terms of misappropriation of funds and embezzlement to salacious claims of respected members participating in sexual affairs," said the letter, dated Dec. 13, 2015, of which CBC has obtained a copy.

That letter was among several written complaints that led to an independent ethics investigation which concluded that Stein Day was guilty of breaching the board's code of ethics on three separate occasions.

In an interview Tuesday on CBC Montreal's Daybreak, Stein Day said while she accepts that the ethics commissioner had a job to do in investigating complaints about her, she doesn't think she is guilty.

Promised whistleblower protection

At the time the letter was written, Mastantuono said she was told by school board administrators that she and other signatories would be protected under the board's whistleblower policies.

However, Mastantuono said she was suspended in June and then fired in September.

"I worked for 27 years without a blemish to my record. I have never had as much as a reprimand," said Mastantuono, who had been the head of the Lester B. Pearson School Board's international department.

Mastantuono said two of her colleagues in the international department who also signed the letter were dismissed, and a principal who was a signatory to a separate complaint was demoted.

Fired for confidential reasons

Stein Day told CBC that no employees were fired or demoted because of anything to do with the ethics investigation nor with the letters that triggered that investigation.

"Any administrative moves were for other reasons that, unfortunately, are confidential to the personnel files, and I can't talk about them other than to say they were not related to the letters," she said.

Lester B. Pearson School Board Chair Suanne Stein Day says she doesn't agree with a report that found she breached the board's code of ethics. (CBC)

Stein Day also said that the letter from staff and former staff of the international department did not factor into the ethics commissioner's report. 

"The ethics commissioner dismissed that letter, almost in its entirety," said Stein Day.

Mastantuono said she was not given a reason for her dismissal, only that the board was looking into "improprieties" in her department. She has now filed a complaint with Quebec's Labour Relations Board but said the school board has refused mediation.

"I'm calling for and asking every commissioner that sits on the council to stand up and do the right thing," said Mastantuono.

The Quebec Labour Relations Board confirmed it has two open complaints about the Lester B. Pearson board, but it could not speak to the nature of the complaints. 

Moving forward

On Monday, at the meeting which Stein Day revealed she was found guilty of the ethics breaches, Commissioner Noel Burke said the board wanted to move forward as a team. He added that the commissioners unanimously support Stein Day.

"I need to explore the relationship with administration and improve the situation. That I am certainly willing to do," Stein Day said in her interview with Daybreak.

"I definitely regret if I've made any of the administration feel uncomfortable working with me because I always thought we had a good relationship."

The reason it took so long for the situation to be made public was that first, the ethics commissioner had to be able to conduct the investigation in confidence.

But once the probe was done, the commissioner decided to keep the results private, she said.

"I was certainly willing to stand up to any mistakes I made right from the onset, and we felt muzzled. So as a council we decided that if we're ever going to move forward, we have to do this," Stein Day said, adding that by speaking out, she was disregarding the order from the ethics commissioner.

Calls for resignation

Luc Horne was a teacher at Lindsay Place and Beaconsfield high schools for a combined 32 years. Now retired, he attended Monday night's meeting, calling for Stein Day to resign.

While he doesn't know what, exactly, Stein Day is accused of having done or said, he pointed to the report's mention of "salacious rumours and gossip" and the fact she was found guilty three times as enough to warrant her resignation.

"When you have the head of the teachers association standing up and saying, 'There is a cloud over the school board in the current situation,' the evidence is there," he said.

Many others at Monday's public meeting called for more accountability and transparency from the board.

When asked about the controversy Tuesday, Education Minister Sébastien Proulx said he would address the matter later.

All he would say for the moment was, "You'll see."

with files from CBC Montreal's Daybreak and Ainslie MacLellan