A TEACHER HAS been awarded a sum of over €65,000 in compensation by an Equality Tribunal after it concluded that she had been discriminated against by her school.
The school was found to have discriminated against the teacher on grounds of her gender and by not taking reasonable steps to prevent or reverse her sexual harassment.
The teacher, known as Ms A, has worked at the school in the south of the country since September 2004. She was made permanent there in October 2008.
The initial source of the dispute was an incident of sexual harassment perpetrated against the teacher by a man, known as Mr B, at a wedding in March 2010.
That man was subsequently hired by the school as a supervisor and then later as a Special Needs Assistant (SNA).
At the wedding of mutual friends in March 2010 Ms A was the subject of an ‘unwelcome sexual approach’ by Mr B, who was not affiliated officially with the school at the time but who was connected in an informal way via sporting matters, eg he had trained some of the school’s hurling teams.
Ms A subsequently confided in the vice principal Mr D (since retired) about what had happened at a staff party in April 2010.
On 17 June 2010 Mr B apologised to Ms A via text message. Ms A accepted this apology.
Mr B then signed a permanent contract of employment with the school’s principal, Mr C, as a supervisor, something vice-principal D objected to as he felt the man’s sporting connection did not qualify him to work in this new role.
However Mr D did not raise the subject of Mr B’s unwanted sexual approach towards Ms A as this occurred outside the school’s jurisdiction and was related to him in confidence.
Over the following three years Ms A repeatedly raised complaints regarding Mr B’s presence in the school and the discomfort it caused her with her principal.
In November 2010 Ms A reported the incident at the wedding to the gardaí. At the same time she raised her issues with Mr B with the school’s board of management saying:
The principal merely reminds me that he is happy with Mr B’s assurances, and that this man is entitled to his job and his place in the staff room… My career, health and happiness are on the line.
It was understood from the beginning of Mr B’s employment at the school that he should ‘keep out of Ms A’s space’. Ms A contended that in fact this was not the case, and that Mr B would frequently ‘stare at her’ or give her ‘dirty looks’.
Mr B also also entered her classroom without permission and without acknowledging her in order to hand out soccer flyers at one stage.
In one of her complaints to the principal, heard in May 2012, Ms A intimated that she now avoided the staff room and the dining hall when Mr B was present, and that she did “not feel safe in my workplace” due to Mr B’s presence.
In response to this complaint an external investigation was commissioned. One of the recommendations of this investigation was that “support and guidance” be provided for both Ms A and Mr B.
During this time Ms A cited the following examples of discrimination against her due to Mr B’s favourable relationship with other members of staff:
- That the school did not provide her with anticipated funding for a Master’s programme
- There was a negative change in the allocation of supervisory duties to her
- Mr B being given a role as a Special Needs Assistant after no work was available for him as a supervisor for the 2011/12 school year, despite his lack of qualifications
- Ms A being excluded from a soccer fundraiser by the organiser who was a friend and sports colleague of Mr B
- In 2013 the complainant submitted that she was overlooked for a vacancy as a permanent teacher in her chosen subjects of maths and science
In January 2013 principal C was placed on administrative leave.
Throughout the hearing it was acknowledged by vice-principal Mr D and the school manager (and current principal) Mr E that this time period was a “a very challenging time”, and that the “school was not in a good place”.
In June 2013 Mr B resigned from his employment with the school. The school supported him in further employment as a SNA.
Subsequently, in September 2013 Mr B entered the school grounds for “no apparent reason”. While Ms A did not see him at the time, she found reports of his visit to be “very unsettling”.
Ms A brought her case alleging discrimination against the school to the Equality Tribunal in December 2013. Her case was corroborated to an extent by a colleague of hers, Ms F, who also told the Tribunal she wished it to be known that she considers Ms A to be “an excellent teacher”.
In its defence the school refuted all claims of discrimination.
It accepted that the unwanted sexual advance made by Mr B at the wedding in March 2010 happened as described by Ms A. Mr B had also accepted this previously, and that his actions at the time were “grossly inappropriate”.
The school contended that it could not be held responsible for what happened at that wedding as it was not a school-related event, and Mr B was not at that time employed by the school.
In its ruling, the Equality Tribunal discounted culpability on the school’s part regarding the the events surrounding Mr B’s inappropriate approach to Ms A at the wedding in March 2010 as the school “did not commission, organise or have a direct control over” that event.
However, in the context of Mr B’s subsequent employment by the school, the Tribunal found that the school had a case to answer with regard to its dealings with Ms A and the effect that employment had on her career and life in general.
For example in August 2010 Ms A wrote to principal C saying “I hope that Mr B’s presence in my workplace will not have the effect of further upsetting me”. The Tribunal saw this as a “clear call for help”, and that the school appeared “content to allow the complainant to lead the resistance to Mr B’s behaviour”.
Consequently the Tribunal found that the school did discriminate against Ms A on gender grounds, and also by not taking reasonable and practicable steps towards preventing or reversing her sexual harassment at the hands of Mr B due to his “sporting cultural connection” with the school.
The Tribunal also found that the school did not victimise Ms A.
As a result of these findings, and as a means of providing “a real deterrent against future infractions”, the Tribunal awarded Ms A €39,204 (the equivalent of nine months’ salary) in compensation for her sexual harassment and her employer’s failure to reverse the effect, together with a further €26,136 in compensation for the discrimination against her on gender grounds, for a total of €65,340.
You can read the Equality Tribunal’s full judgement here