A substitute teacher who says he was fired by a local Catholic school board for changing his gender is rejecting a settlement in order to continue speaking about the case.
Jan Buterman was born a woman but now lives full-time as a man. He claims he was fired in Oct. 2008 by Greater St. Albert Catholic Schools, four months after informing the deputy superintendent he was changing gender and wished to be identified as Mr. Buterman in the future.
The superintendent’s written response informed Buterman he would be removed from the substitute teacher list because “gender change is not aligned with the teachings of the Church” and would result in “confusions and complexity with students and parents as a model and witness to Catholic faith values.”
Buterman went to the Alberta Human Rights Commission, which accepted the complaint in Oct. 2009 on the grounds of medical disability, physical disability and gender. At the time, a spokeswoman for the commission said 60 per cent of cases heading to the Alberta Human Rights and Citizenship Commission are resolved through conciliation within a year, avoiding the extra step of a tribunal.
Last September, the school board offered Buterman $78,000 cash -approximately a teacher’s salary -along with a one-year teaching job in exchange for dropping the complaint. The settlement came with a confidentiality agreement which stipulated he could no longer talk about the complaint or refer to the incident.
Buterman didn’t want to give up talking about the case, since it involves documented proof of anecdotal experiences of many transgender people.
In the fall, Buterman began a master’s degree in education policies at the University of Alberta. The confidentiality clause would hamper his future work, including an upcoming presentation in May at an academic conference in Fredericton.
“As an academic and activist, the need to talk about this, I think, is pretty valid,” said Buterman. “I think it’s really important that we’re able to point to this and say it really happened, this is what was said.”
Buterman’s lawyers have advised him refusing the offer would result in the school board moving to dismiss the complaint because a “fair and reasonable” settlement has been put on the table.
The decision has more than monetary consequences, and likely means the end of the legal process. The Alberta Teachers’ Association confirmed it has been paying Buterman’s legal fees to date. However, a union spokesman says it is no longer paying Buterman’s legal fees based on an evaluation of the “likely outcome” of the case and recommendations from their lawyers.
“We believe this has gone as far as it can go; we’ve received the best possible return or result,” said Dennis Theobald. “We don’t believe we should necessarily be supporting, at least on a financial basis, Mr. Buterman going forward.”
Theobald said the decision is not based on the merits of the case itself, and does not reflect a change in the union’s policy of protecting its members on gender grounds.
Buterman says he hoped the case would be debated in a tribunal process and “gets it” that the lawyers evaluated the case. He doesn’t have the resources to keep fighting. “This will be the end of it. But it’s the end of it, and I can still talk about it. I can still be true to what happened.”
Representatives of Greater St. Albert Catholic Schools could not be reached for comment on Sunday.