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UBC discrimination suit appeal dismissed

Court upholds freedom to question religious morality

APPEAL DISMISSED. English professor Lorraine Weir was one of four teachers named in the suit against UBC. Credit: Jeremy Hainsworth photo

The BC Court of Appeal has dismissed an appeal in the legal case that highlighted the freedom of secular university instructors and students to question Judeo-Christian morality without facing a lawsuit for discriminating against Christians.

Cynthia Maughan, now 49, sued UBC in November 2002 after she unsuccessfully appealed a B-minus mark she received in lesbian English professor Lorraine Weir’s transgressive literature class.

The Anglican-identifying Maughan had sued the university for allegedly discriminating against her as a Christian.

She alleged she was subjected to hatred and contempt in UBC’s graduate English department. She named four teachers, including Weir, in the suit.

In an Oct 20 ruling, the appeals court noted the relationship between Weir and Maughan was “highly charged and adversarial.”

However, it upheld a January 2008 BC Supreme Court finding that there was no admissible evidence before Justice Austin Cullen that this disharmony was attributable to religious discrimination or bad faith dealings on the part of Dr Weir or the other respondents.

“In our view, Ms Maughan’s claim is not based on the evidence per se, but on her interpretation of the evidence and the inferences she drew from the evidence founded on her firm conviction that she was subjected to discriminatory treatment by the respondents on the basis of her religion,” the appeals court said.

Maughan’s statement of claim focused on several incidents, including a three-year-old email exchange between herself and another department graduate student.

The student had been discussing then-Canadian Alliance leader Stockwell Day and his views on abortion and homosexuality.

“How is it I owe respect to an individual who so obviously [has] no respect for huge elements of our society?” the student wrote. “Screw respect. He makes me recall fondly a time-period when Christians were stoned.”

Maughan alleged that that statement subjected her, as a Christian, to hatred and contempt.

She also says she missed out on at least one opportunity to further her understanding of the course material because Weir decided, along with the rest of the class, to hold an extra seminar on a Sunday.

Maughan objected, saying the Sunday is her sabbath.

Her lawyer later admitted to reporters that Maughan had not regularly attended church in some time.

Maughan sought $18 million in damages from the university. She did not get that.

On appeal, Maughan suggested the trial judge was biased. That allegation was also rejected.

“In our view, her rights were respected during the trial, and what she now presents as an apprehension of bias on the part of the trial judge is little more than her strong disagreement with his disposition of her case,” the three-justice panel wrote.

Moreover, the Appeals Court awarded costs to the respondents.

The unanimous decision rejected Maughan’s argument the suit was a test case, in which each party bears their own costs.

The justices said Maughan chose to institute the litigation on allegations which were found in both the Supreme and Appeals Courts to have no evidentiary foundation.

“The respondents, in the meantime, have been forced to participate in this litigation, not of their choosing, for seven years. We can see no basis for finding that any of them should be required to fund the litigation by compelling them to pay their own costs,” the justices concluded.

The Supreme Court judge rejected her arguments saying there was no evidence anyone had attempted to interfere with Maughan’s civil rights.

“This is a case which in the final analysis fails because it relies on speculation, innuendo and conjecture,” wrote Cullen in dismissing the case early last year.

Maughan also claimed Weir had been negligent in discussing the case with Xtra West.

The court held Weir had a “right and duty to respond robustly to allegations made against her in the public forum.”

Maughan had sued the university under the Civil Rights Protection Act (CRPA), rather than the Human Rights Act. The CRPA was initially drafted to deal with problems posed in BC by the Ku Klux Klan.

When she lost in the BC Supreme Court, Maughan launched the appeal.

She was later told to refile her appeal.

She did and attempted to introduce new evidence which was rejected.