Principal Dismissed for Alleged Bullying Awarded €55,000 by EAT

Posted in : Supplementary Articles ROI on 14 July 2009
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Gertie McNerney, Edenmore, Ballinamuck, Co. Longford v The Board of Management, St. Patrick’s National School, Dromard, Moyne, Co. Longford (UD1156/2007)

Facts

The claimant had been a teacher at the school since 1965 and had been appointed as Principal in 1996. Counsel for the Respondent opened to the Tribunal various correspondence commencing with a letter dated 29th June 2005 from a teacher in the School. It was clear from the Chairman’s evidence that relations between the Principal and the Board had broken down some years prior to the letter dated the 29th June 2005. Essentially this letter is the commencement of the correspondence relating to the first complaint against the Principal considered by the Board.

Throughout the consideration of the first complaint the Chairman was in receipt of advice. Upon the first complaint being considered the Board issued a letter dated 26th October 2005 by way of a formal warning to the Principal. The Board found that the Principal failed to provide information requested by the Chairman and failed to respond to correspondence from the Chairman. Counsel for the Respondent then opened a series of correspondence commencing with a letter dated 12th January 2006. In brief, this phase of the evidence related to two letters sent by two parents of two pupils and essentially this comprises the second complaint investigated by the Board. In response to the correspondence the Board instructed the Chairman to write to the Principal and a copy of the draft letter sent was opened to the Tribunal (incorrectly dated 12th January 2006). The letter was sent on the 7th of February 2006. There followed various other correspondence ultimately resting with the Board issuing a letter dated 15th May 2006 advising that it was “now issuing a final warning” to the Principal.

The third complaint ran in tandem with the second complaint and the correspondence commenced with the letter from the Chairman to the Principal dated the 17th May 2006. It related to an allegation that the Principal failed to keep the Board of Management informed regarding 7 ½ hours learning support which was not made known to the Board or taken up by the Principal.

The investigation of this complaint was suspended pending complaints of bullying/harassment being commenced by the three other teachers in the School. The Principal was the object of each complaint. The bullying/harassment procedure was invoked by the various complainant teachers and ultimately referred for mediation by a Mediator. The Mediator reported to the Board that he was unable to find a basis for a resolution and he recommended that the Board deal with the issues involved. The bullying/harassment complaints process commenced in or about the 19th of May 2006. On the 15th of August 2006 the Chairman wrote to the Principal advising, “The bullying/harassment cases taken by the staff have been substantiated. The issue of disciplinary action is now being considered”.

She was dismissed on 26th June 2007.


Determination

"It is the decision of the Tribunal that the Respondent, despite its best efforts, embarked on a process that was fundamentally flawed from the outset. It is clear from the minutes of the meeting of the Board of Directors on the 21st of October 2003 that relations between the Board and, in particular, the Chairman of the Board and the Principal had broken down. The initial complaints which came before the Board for consideration and upon which the finding of misconduct was made were not of such seriousness as to warrant a formal finding of misconduct. Such a finding of misconduct was disproportionate and probably arrived at in very difficult circumstances. However difficult the circumstances that existed within the workplace, these circumstances, which we do not propose to detail but which were clearly apparent throughout the course of the evidence, should not have coloured the manner in which the Board dealt with the initial complaints of misconduct. This flaw was perpetuated in the manner in which the Board subsequently dealt with the further complaints. As such the decision of the Tribunal is that the dismissal was unfair in all the circumstances. However, the Applicant had contributed significantly to the difficulties. Her behaviour was unreasonable and contributed to the breakdown in relations. Taking this into account the Tribunal has awarded a sum of €55,000 under the Unfair Dismissals Acts, 1977 to 2007."

This article is correct at 14/07/2009
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