Halifax Christian Academy describes itself as “dedicated to the mission and vision of furthering God’s kingdom through discipleship driven education.”
Shaun Alspach, on the other hand, says the school cheated him and his company out of $375,000 and then representatives of the school lied about him, including, among other things, falsely accusing him of stealing money.
Those allegations are included in a lawsuit Shaun Alspach and his wife, Leah Alspach, filed in the Supreme Court of Nova Scotia.
The lawsuit names as defendants Halifax Christian Academy; Darren Millet and Jo-An Dennis, who were members of the school’s board of directors during the time period of the allegations; and Rebecca Nickerson, a school employee.
Alspach also discussed his time at Halifax Christian Academy with Brian Vee in January 2021. Vee had attended a Dartmouth church where Alspach was a preacher, and considered Alspach a mentor; Vee was then working in Korea as a teacher, and produced a YouTube series called Whywework, in which he interviewed people about their motivations for working.
‘Sent by God’
In 2017, Alspach, through his position as vice-president of a consulting firm called Influencing Generations for Christ (IGC), was contracted for one year by Halifax Christian Academy (HCA) as Head of School, tasked with “improving financial position of HCA, ensuring HCA remain solvent and open, and implement strategies to increase enrolment.”
“Mr. Alspach was greatly successful in his role,” reads the statement of claim, and so was contracted again in 2018. However, continues the claim, “it was recognized that Mr. Alspach (through IGC) had worked 1600 hours more than his 2017 contract had stipulated, so in recognition of that extra work, the 2018 contract awarded Alspach with a $20,000 cash bonus and $100,000 in tuition credits for Alspach’s two daughters, should they attend the school. (According to the school’s current website, tuition at HCA is about $10,000 per year per student.)
In the 2018-19 school year, Alspach “continued to work above and beyond the hours stipulated in his IGC contract,” continues the statement of claim “He did so on the repeated verbal assurances from HCA’s Board of Directors that he would be compensated for these overtime hours. Mr. Alspach kept track of the additional hours on the direction and with the knowledge of HCA… Mr. Alspach’s work was integral to the survival of HCA as a school, and it was continually expected that Mr. Alspach would fulfill his duties, regardless of hours.”
The statement of claim says that on Oct. 1, 2019, Alspach was hired directly by the school (that is, without the involvement of Influencing Generations for Christ), and his employment contract “stipulated that Mr. Alspach would work 100 hours per month, with a maximum of 125 hours per month.”
However, Alspach continued to work more than 125 hours per month.
“On several occasions throughout 2019 and 2020, Mr. Alspach was assured by HCA’s Board of Directors that he should keep working hours over and above the 125 hours per month, and the he would be compensated for these overtimes hours,” reads the statement of claim. As a result, Alspach “was foregoing other, paid consulting work.”
Alspach claims that in June 2020, HCA asked him to document the hours he had worked over and above his contracted hours, and he calculated that he “had worked an additional 5,000 hours during his time working for HCA both as an employee and through IGC” before he was hired directly by the school. “Mr. Alspach was encouraged to continue documenting his additional hours and to continue working overtime, again, on the express condition that he would be compensated.”
According to the claim, in March 2021, HCA’s board of directors formed a committee “to determine an appropriate amount of compensation to offer Mr. Alspach for his efforts above the contract limits… It was determined that IGC was owed $240,000 by HCA, and Mr. Alspach was owed $135,000 for work he had done as an employee.”
On March 24, 2021, the HCA board of directors sent Alspach “a letter of commendation stating that he was sent by God to keep the school alive and thanked him for his sacrificial service over the preceding three and a half (3.5) years,” reads the claim. “The letter acknowledged HCA’s success in many key areas under the leadership of Mr. Alspach. The commendation acknowledged the negative impact that the workload had on Mr. Alspach’s family and his own personal health.”
Fired and defamed
Then things went south.
“In or about March of 2021, HCA determined that to compensate Mr. Alspach for his overtime hours would be detrimental to the financial health of the school,” reads the statement of claim. “HCA determined that because there was no written agreement to pay Mr. Alspach for his overtime hours, that there was a chance HCA may not be found liable to him, so HCA decided to renege on its years of promises to Mr. Alspach to pay him for the overtime hours he worked.”
Alspach was fired on June 17, 2021, paid six months’ severance according to the terms of his contract. However, he claims, he was not paid for the overtime he had accrued, nor for all of his vacation time.
Moreover, according to the claim, MCA refused to honour the terms of his contract with IGC, which included the $100,000 in tuition credits. Alspach says the contract allowed him to reassign the tuition credits to students besides his daughters, and he assigned a portion of the credits to a student who is now in Grade 12, but the school has refused to honour that assignment.
Also, according to the claim, Leah Alspach, who was working as a teacher at the school, was locked out of the building and denied access to her work email. “Both Shaun and Leah Alspach were removed from a Facebook group of parents with children in HCA, despite the fact that they still had two daughters attending HCA… HCA also seized and restricted access to the email accounts and associated chat room functions of the Plaintiff’s daughters who were students at HCA.”
A few days after he was fired, reads the claim, “four members of HCA’s Board of Directors hosted a meeting with approximately 200 hundred participants including parents and staff at MCA. At this meeting, a PowerPoint presentation was by HCA which divulged private and sensitive information about Mr. Alspach’s compensation agreements with HCA, both as a consultant in the position of Vice President of IGC, and as an employee. Catherine Gilbert, a member of HCA’s Board, declared at the meeting that the Defendant [HCA] had ‘lost trust’ in Mr. Alspach. Details of sensitive and confidential negotiations between Mr. Alspach, IGC and HCA was [sic] divulged to those attending the meeting, as well as the details of severance he received on termination. Mr. Alspach’s salary and severance package were described as ‘generous.’ Mr. Alspach says that the figures disclosed in this meeting were misleading to make it seem as though Mr. Alspach was compensated more than he was. For example, the $100,000 gifted tuition credit was listed as part of the compensation, when only half of that had been used by Mr. Alspach’s daughters.”
“The Plaintiffs say that this meeting was held with a view to cast Mr. Alspach in a negative light and to make HCA look like the victim of Mr. Alspach’s greed, and that was grossly misleading.”
At the meeting, says the claim, “Darren Millet stated that Mr. Alspach ‘unilaterally chose to work in excess of the agreed upon contractual maximum and retroactively demand[ed] compensation.’ This statement was false and defamatory. Mr. Alspach kept the defendant apprised of his overtime hours and received repeated assurances that he would be compensated and at no time did he ‘demand’ retroactive payment for hours that MCA did not know about.”
Also at the meeting, Alspach alleges, “Darren Millet stated that Mr. Alspach was making ‘duplicative’ requests for payment through both IGC and for himself personally. This statement is false and defamatory and at no time did Mr. Alspach demand duplicative payment.”
Alspach claims that both before and after he was fired, he was additionally defamed by HCA employee Rebecca Nickerson and HCA board member Jo-An Dennis.
Nickerson, claims Alspach, “made several slanderous and defamatory statements of fact about Mr. Alspach which were untrue and tended to lower Mr. Alspach’s reputation.” These included that Alspach had “bullied” her mother, Dianne Swinemar, who was on HCA’s board of directors when Alspach was fired.
The statement of claim further alleges that Nickerson said that “Mr. Apspach had ‘absconded’ from HCA with $20,000” and that “she stated, repeatedly, that Mr. Alspach was stealing money from HCA.”
Alspach accuses Jo-an of telling lies about him — “Specifically, Jo-an Dennis stated that Mr. Alspach was ‘trying to get as much money from the school as possible.'”
Alspach claims that the defamatory remarks combined with private information about him that was spread around the school about him cumulated with the “creation of an anonymously run Instagram account using the HCA Logo which accused Mr. Alspach of stealing money from HCA.”
His reputation was soiled, says Alspach, and the rumours about him “created a toxic an unsafe environment for Mr. Alspach and his family” that was so distressing that he left Nova Scotia completely, and moved to Kentucky.
Alspach is asking the court to award him the following relief from HCA:
• $135,00 in unpaid overtime, payment for unpaid vacation time, and out of pocket expenses
• a declaration that Alspach can assign the unused tuition credits to a student of his choosing
• general damages for “fraudulent misrepresentation and bad faith in contractual dealings”
• aggravated and punitive damages, interest, and costs
Additionally, from defendants Darren Millet, Rebecca Nickerson, and Jo-an Dennis, Alspach is seeking general and special damages for defamation, aggravated and punitive damages, interest, and costs.
Leah Alspach is seeking from HCA general and special damages, aggravated and punitive damages, interest, and costs.
The Alspaches are represented by Bedford lawyer Barry Mason.
The allegations contained in the statement of claim have not been tested in court, and neither HCA, Millet, Nickerson, nor Dennis have as yet filed a defence with the court.
In his discussion with Vee, the YouTuber, Shaun Alspach discussed the joys and challenges of working at HCA. This discussion happened in January 2021, two months before Alspach was fired from the school.
“Using my car in the ditch analogy,” said Alspach, “the car was in the ditch and on fire at HCA three and a half years ago, but we got it back on the road, and maybe we’re not doing 100 miles an hour, but we’re clipping along.”
“It’s been an inordinate amount of work,” Alspach said. “In three and a half years, I’ve been into it for, I don’t know, 10- or 11,000 hours.”
Asked by Vee how he maintained his productivity, Alspach said that “after three and a half years, I hit the wall in December  — I actually had a little mini-breakdown… I had a couple of crises, personal crises — deaths — that triggered it in December, and just didn’t have the resiliency.”