As promised, I wanted to blog about Ms. Tran’s re-opened court case with St. Mary’s International School in Tokyo, Japan. The unfair dismissal case that the teacher had brought against the school in 2008 was supposed to be finished in May of 2010 through a settlement. However, it resurrected, zombie-style, when Ms. Tran found out some disturbing news one day in November of 2010. This strangely involved a Professor of the English Department of Aoyama Gakuin University–someone Ms. Tran has never met.
The attempted firing of the new teacher had snowballed from power harassment incidents involving the Assistant Elementary Vice Principal, Michael Dimuzio and Curriculum Coordinator, Linda Wayne. At the time, (as it still is now) the school:
– was not unionized,
– gave comfortable salaries,
– had a largely transient student body, whose parents had an interest in avoiding criticism or judgment on their family or son in the temporary community
– was headed by aging French Catholic Brothers who routinely left the administration to small-town middle managers, doing the same job in their English-only bubble for decades
– had internal reports that the school had lent large Tokyo-mortgages to several teaching couples, administrators and managers in the past,
All these seemingly neutral ingredients ensured a year-in-year-out atmosphere of complacency and cesspool-like homeostasis. But perhaps the calm was just a rouse. The glue (goo?) holding this set-up together might have actually been the looming threat of default on all sides. Therefore, if someone wanted to speak out about a problem, there were many forces in the school community with an interest to shut it down. Here Ms. Tran was protesting at St. Mary’s International School’s Carnival, just before she went to court:
While many other teachers were resigned to complain behind closed doors, Ms. Tran escalated her issue until she got a resolution because last time anyone checked, Japan was a first world country. She took her problem through the school (useless), through the mediation of the Tokyo Government’s Labor Mediation (no teeth or jurisdiction), through collective bargaining with a labour union (obliges school to listen, but not act; strikes and demos become legal; access to union lawyer), and then through civil court, which was the only body able to judge or award damages. It all finally ended in a settlement 2 years later. Settlements are supposed to help both sides move on. At the end of the day, the school was not able to “dismiss” her based on “incompetency” because there had been no evidence submitted to warrant it–this was the most important thing Ms. Tran wanted to establish. As a result, the school’s dismissal of her didn’t stand, and Ms. Tran was serious about maintaining her teaching record coming into this mess, as she was leaving it. So, before the case ended, she asked the judge to get the school to re-issue her a letter of recommendation and they complied. Ms. Tran knew that the international school community was small, with long-time networks of former jet-setting teachers who keep in touch all over the world, for better or for worse, trading intel/gossip on teachers and schools. The hand-signed letterhead was not fail-proof, but it would provide interesting contrast in case a follow-up phone call with the school didn’t corroborate it!
For her part, she was asked by the court to talk to “whoever it was” that ran this blog, to stop it. Since I ran the blog as a supporter in all this, and even if it was just a pre-condition to the settlement that I stop, I saw the fairness in it, and did. That was then!
Back to the Re-Opening of the Case:
Ms. Tran had by then, moved onto teaching at universities in the Tokyo area. The university sector generally has part-time positions (paid by the number of courses taught) and if one wanted to make more money in the sector, one took on several courses at the same university, or several universities.
Ms. Tran while suing the school, had been completing her Master’s Degree from the University of Toronto, which was the last qualification she needed to teach at universities in Japan. By November 2010, she had been holding down courses at three universities and felt she could take on a fourth. At the advice of one of her sempai, who was sure he’d be able to recommend her into a block of several courses at Aoyama Gakuin University, she applied to the school.
Now, usually, an applicant never quite knows “why” it is that a prospective employer might not hire him or her. God knows, there were some rejections after the court case. But Ms. Tran was adamant about leaving on her resume: the 2 years that she had poured her heart and soul into doing right by her 3rd graders at St. Mary’s International School! There was no way that was going to waste! Now, you’d think this would pose the risk of a prospective employer calling the admin, getting an earful and getting scared away from hiring her. And Ms. Tran was well aware that was a possibility–even suspected that was the case, despite that letter of recommendation. But then again, teachers: this is exactly the kind of filter that is necessary to weed out unthinking, unquestioning a-hole employers, anyway. In fact, Ms. Tran even got hired at a university, whose one English department was run by a St. Mary’s parent well aware of the case! Anyway, when she didn’t get a response to the job at Aoyama, she figured it was what it was, and moved on. UNTIL…
One day, she was given notice of an email written by Gregory Strong, of the English Department at Aoyama Gakuin University, to whom she had applied. The email was not to Ms. Tran, but to one of Ms. Tran’s employers. For anyone interested, the full text of the following letter (which was submitted as evidence) is retrievable by referencing the court case, at the Tokyo District Court in Kasumigaseki:
(Ms. Tran, plaintiff and her lawyer)
(St. Mary’s International School, Thomas Tremblay Head of the School Corporation, defendant and their lawyers)
That’s right: an administrator at St. Mary’s, despite a court order to stay quiet about the case, decided that attacking the teacher within the teaching industry would be a good strategy–because her teaching opportunities would be damaged, and she would never know why if it were done in secrecy. Who did they talk to? How many people did they talk to? Who knows. But this Gregory Strong accidentally went on record via email here, to show that this was a interesting game for him to play. He is the recruiter for a university, and clearly believed he had influence over Ms. Tran’s employer in this email, to follow his judgment, which was handed down to him by St. Mary’s. I’m writing this to let people at the school know what tactics were used.
Strange isn’t it? (No, I don’t mean the ungrammatical letter written by an apparent English Department head). I mean, isn’t this petty? I have never met Gregory Strong, but I assume he is a grown man, and an adult even. I have also learned that he has never met Ms. Tran. Yet, what small-minded, petty, evil (?) person would write something that would undermine the livelihood of a person he doesn’t even know? Someone who would find it their personal job to spread unsubstantiated rumours for no one’s gain–just out of pure revenge on behalf of his friend at St. Mary’s. As if it were the mind of an attack dog, not a professional. Here, Gregory Strong seemed to rely on some personal network of “highly influential” employers in the teaching business to exact his power over the teacher’s fate. Classic delusions of self-importance and grandeur? Well, despite any intended importance it may have had, the email wasn’t received as Mr. Strong had hoped. Ms. Tran’s employer, who found the letter incongruous with reality and was put off that it seemed to encourage him to act on unfounded, unprofessional gossip, did the right thing: he let Ms. Tran know what was being said about her in the teaching industry. Teachers, this is a rare case when you’re let in on crucial intel on detrimental gossip about your life!!
Catching a whiff of familiar smelling garbage, Ms. Tran, with her special St. Mary’s fund from earlier in 2010, thought this might be worth looking into. But, what was going on here? Defamation? By whom exactly? Or was it a breach of the confidentiality clause in the settlement, by the school? Or was Gregory Strong gossiping (many of the settlement details he wrote about were awfully skewed to favour St. Mary’s–something that Ms. Tran didn’t remember signing off on–like the one about the court barring her from contacting parents and students? How would that ever be enforced for life? Her blogging? The numerous parent complaints? Had they existed, the school would have used them as evidence to win the case, but didn’t. And the one that says the school terminated her contract–isn’t that what the unfair dismissal case sought to undo? Really, Mr. Strong? Are critical thinking skills available in your department?)
Ms. Tran also wanted to find out who Gregory Strong’s admin friend was at St. Mary’s–and what role this person might have had in defaming / breaching the settlement etc. Though it was entirely possible that Gregory Strong was an independent gossip, since he specifically implicated a St. Mary’s admin friend as his source of knowledge of the “settlement”, Ms. Tran’s lawyer opened the old case back up.
Linda Wayne, the Curriculum Coordinator at St. Mary’s International School was the source of Strong’s defamatory ideas / settlement gossip about the teacher. Linda Wayne and Gregory Strong had apparently taught together in the ’90s at another international school, and surprise, formed some ever-lasting network of slave-owner-mentality folks who evidently took out their ________frustrations on others (*shudder). Linda Wayne had been one of two people who testified in the original unfair dismissal case (the other was the Business Manager). Good times, click here to read what she testified. She was also an admin involved in negotiating the settlement.
Once this came out in court, Ms. Tran was totally unsurprised. It was merely a suspicion confirmed, folks. The vindictive spreading of lies, in secret, and encouraging others to participate in her ruin (the ruin of someone they didn’t like) was exactly what Ms. Tran had experienced throughout the whole ordeal with the school since she started working there. However, it was just very rare to able to confirm that something like this was happening. But there it is, teachers, parents, alumni, and students. There it is.
Also, if I may add, this case must have caused an interesting tension between Gregory Strong and Linda Wayne, who had to cooperate to defend the school corporation–but were themselves the causes of this lawsuit happening. I wonder how that friendship is going? As well, Ms. Tran’s lawyers were union and public lawyers, who work, at most, inexpensively, to help social-cause cases. St. Mary’s private lawyers are slightly more expensive. I’m just thinking that the court fees in this thing for the school alone might have been a source of disappointment in Wayne and Strong, by the school corporation. After all, tight secrecy of ill deeds is usually sufficient to avoid being called-out in such an organization. Linda Wayne, I think, was just doing what she knew would be approved and supported by the school. Gregory Strong was a weak link, this time.
Part 2? I warn that it will just contain mind-numbing incredulous-ness, that come from the Linda Wayne and Gregory Strong’s excuses in court. So….should we all be scared of St. Mary’s “power”? Well, let’s see: their “power” is apparently a network of unprofessional gossips who spread blacklists to remind themselves that they are in some kind of inner-circle. I’d doubt the professional ethics of “Collusion”. And they have friends like Gregory Strong. I mean, look at the way he writes! It’s incredible to imagine that in Japan, these individuals are at the top of their professions. Laughable. However, the amount of money they wasted from the school corporation’s funds to do all this should be a note to all parents, teachers, students and sponsors. I’d estimate that the school has spent at least 12-15 million yen reconciling their professional ethics in court with Ms. Tran, who challenges them every chance she gets. What could that money have gone to? Or maybe this is an expensive lesson that the school community has needed to go through.