Suing a Parent for Defamation of Character
A teacher calls OECTA Provincial Office asking for advice on suing a parent for defamation of character. The teacher has received a telephone call from an investigator from the Ontario College of Teachers telling him that he will shortly be receiving a letter of complaint in the mail. The complaint is from a parent who alleges that the teacher was negligent in his duties. The teacher is angry and denies the allegations.
The provincial staff officer asks the teacher to fax all College of Teachers correspondence to Provincial Office. The staff officer also advises him not to speak with the college investigator because all such conversations may be used in an investigation report. The OECTA staff officer will work with the teacher, and legal counsel if necessary, to make an appropriate response to the complaint.
Teachers must take all College of Teachers complaints seriously. The College has the legislative authority to admonish, reprimand or fine teachers, suspend or revoke their certificate. OECTA can provide expert assistance in handling these cases.
Accusations of defamation are very difficult to substantiate. Defamation, whether libel (statement made in writing), or slander (statements made orally) are allegations about a character that are untrue, that injure a person's reputation or good name, and are made publicly. Complaints to the College of Teachers are not generally considered to be in the public domain.
Furthermore, the College has a mandate to uphold the public interest in education and to receive complaints from the public. The College is exempt from civil actions in the fulfillment of these legislative duties.
The College must investigate any complaint that falls within its mandate and that it receives in writing. Teachers must take all investigations seriously even if they believe the complaint to be groundless.
While teachers are understandably upset about complaints made against them, they must recognize that it is the parents' right to complain either to the school board or to the College of Teachers if they have a concern. The priority for OECTA and the teacher is to respond to the complaint in a suitable manner to ensure that is dismissed.