Legal Ease – Lap Dancing Saga Grinds to a Close
By Robert Smithson
For two Winnipeg teachers, the last several months have surely been an excruciating and humiliating experience. If they were ever going to experience a “What was I thinking?” moment, this was definitely it.
For the (perhaps) three people in Canada who haven’t yet heard the story, the two teachers were recorded engaging in a simulated lap dance. Although the actions occurred in the context of a spirit week dance competition, and were certainly intended in fun, the reaction ranged from shock to disbelief.
Their dance lasted for about a minute, during which the female teacher remained seated and the male danced around her. The routine included the male teacher straddling the female and grinding against her, the female spanking the male and, perhaps most objectionable, the male bobbing his head in between the female’s legs while she feigned ecstasy.
The whole thing took place in front of students and teachers gathered for spirit week activities. Not surprisingly (to anyone who has been awake at all during the last decade), a cellular telephone captured the teachers’ dirty dance.
Faster than you could say “Al Gore”, the video was all over the internet and the news media were converging on Churchill High School.
Students at the high school described the routine as being like “sex on the dance floor”. News reports indicated that parents were calling for the teachers to be fired.
A quick search on the internet reveals numerous clips of the dance routine on YouTube and that news stories appeared on C.B.C., in the Globe & Mail, on C.N.N., and in many other locations. Surely the two teachers didn’t have this sort of exposure in mind when they dreamed up their routine for spirit week.
The two teachers were suspended without pay. Several months later, we now know that neither will be returning to work. The female has resigned and the male’s expired contract will not be renewed.
At work, more and more, there is the likelihood that employees’ actions are going to be recorded in some manner. There is barely a minute which passes in the work day which isn’t preserved in some way by electronic attendance systems, amateur video, emails, records of telephone calls and internet access, workplace surveillance, etc.
The more objectionable the conduct, the more likely that someone is going to hang on to the evidence and, worse, that someone will distribute it.
A representative of the Winnipeg School Division may have said it best. “I think we live in a world of YouTube. Everywhere you go and whatever you do, whether you’re a celebrity or in this case even if you’re not a celebrity, anybody can have a camera at any time and take pictures and it’ll end up on YouTube. This is the 21st century and this is part of it, I guess.”
The chances of employees’ activities being recorded and distributed should be of concern to employees and employers alike.
The tragic events of the death of Robert Dziekanski at the Vancouver Airport are an example of the employer’s reputation being badly damaged by a recording of its employees’ actions.
Mr. Dziekanski died while in the custody of members of the RCMP in the early morning hours of October 14, 2007, in the international arrivals area of the Vancouver International Airport. The critical video was shot by a witness, Mr. Paul Pritchard.
It may be fair to say that the presentation of Pritchard’s video evidence, and its impact on the findings of the “Commission for Public Complaints Against the RCMP”, was a watershed moment in Canadian policing.
In the case of the two Winnipeg teachers, the consequences of the video recording will fall almost solely on them. Who can predict how difficult it will now be for them to find employment within the teaching profession?
A lesson for all of us is that at work, like everywhere else, actions have consequences. There is no “get out of jail free card” for the conduct we engage in at the workplace, especially when it’s caught on video.
Robert Smithson is a partner at Pushor Mitchell LLP in Kelowna practicing exclusively in the area of labour and employment law. For more information about his practice, or to view past Legal Ease columns, log onto www.pushormitchell.com. This subject matter is provided for general informational purposes only and is not intended to be relied upon as legal advice.