A TEACHER AT a primary school will receive compensation over comments made about her son’s sexual orientation.
The Equality Tribunal ruled in favour of the teacher, who took a case against the board of management of a Church of Ireland primary school in the west of Ireland.
A learning support and resource teacher said she was discriminated against because she was not a practicing Church of Ireland teacher and because her son is gay.
She started working at the school on 1 November 2006. She said there was an ongoing issue with comments made by the principal relating to religion and her son’s sexual orientation.
The teacher said the principal, who denied the allegations, remarked that a “normal boy” would not spend an afternoon shopping for clothes.
She noted that at a valedictory service held in the local secondary school, her son made a humorous reference to being gay. During the speech he was wearing a pink blazer, something the principal is reported to have raised in the national school the following Monday.
The teacher claimed the principal said the speech and her son’s attire were not appropriate and she also questioned what kind of mother she was to have a son like that. She added that the principal was critical of her son, saying he was gay in a church setting. She said a colleague told her about the principal making similar comments about her son on other occasions.
The teacher said the principal also criticised the behaviour of Catholics in church, calling children of Church of Ireland faith “our children” and the “right people”. On another occasion, the principal allegedly described two families as having no breeding and the complainant attributed this statement as referring to the fact they were being Catholic.
The teacher also said the principal spoke about the negative effect on a local secondary school (where the principal’s daughter attended) of Catholics joining the school.
She had worked for some time in schools in London before returning to Ireland. She had an adaptation period within which she was required to acquire an Irish language qualification. She had not obtained this and her entitlement to work in a national school was then restricted to resource teaching roles.
She said she had consulted with the Department of Education about her position and had also liaised with the school. The tribunal notes that she had been “very upset to receive a telephone call in early May 2013 from the principal where she was accused of not having done her probation, of getting the school into trouble and that the complainant should never have been employed at the school”.
The principal said she was shocked to receive a letter of complaint on 17 September 2013. She said she had never discriminated against the complainant and had sought to include her at all events involving the school.
‘Tricking her way to a contract’
The teacher became entitled to a contract of indefinite duration after four years of service.
On the 20 May 2013, when she had returned from an absence of two weeks, she said the principal accused her of “tricking her way to a contract of indefinite duration and that she wanted a person of the Church of Ireland faith in the role”.
She said the school had “a cold atmosphere where she was repeatedly undermined by the principal when she would say that complainant had not completed her probation”. She said she had not been required to do probation in Ireland as she had done so in the UK.
The chair of the board of management outlined that she and the board were not aware of the issues encountered by the complainant, noting that once they found out, in September 2013, they “reacted as best they could”.
She said the principal had been very upset at the contents of the speech made by the complainant’s son at the valedictory service in relation to comments made about the principal’s daughter, a fellow student, who was mocked for being the daughter of a farmer.
The chair said the principal did not think it was appropriate for the complainant’s son to describe himself as “a genius and gay” in a speech delivered in the church.
The chair said that she did not feel that the speech had been appropriate, in particular the comments made about fellow students.
In respect of redress, the teacher said she was looking for an acknowledgement that what had happened to her was wrong and sought no financial compensation. The tribunal noted that, in the ordinary course of events, this case would attract “a significant award of damages”.
The ruling officer said an award of €3,000 is merited, and ordered all staff and members of the board of management participate in training on equality, discrimination and harassment.