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Constructive Dismissal – School Principal awarded €50,000

The recently reported case of Betty O’Farrell v Board of Management of St. Brigid’s School UD 2199/2011 concerned a claim for constructive dismissal which the claimant ultimately won despite remaining in employment having submitted her notice in April 2011 until it became effective in August 2011.BackgroundThe claimant was appointed principal in this case in August 2005 having previously worked in the school since 1979. Issues arose as to the competence of a particular teacher to teach and relationship between the claimant and the teacher appeared to have completely broken down. On 6th March 2009 the chairman of the respondent wrote to the Diocesan Bishop as patron of the school seeking the patron’s approval for the dismissal of the teacher. Ultimately the statutes committee found in favour of the teacher on procedural fairness grounds under both Canon Law and Statute. The claimant indicated an unwillingness to work with the teacher and the use of an external mediator was sought to facilitate the teacher’s return to school. The claimant was informed that if the teacher were to return to the school, the claimant would be required to stay in the classroom to monitor the teacher’s performance. The claimant felt she could not perform her duties as principal if required to be in the teacher’s class.On 12th April 2011 the claimant wrote a letter notifying the board of her intention to retire from her position on 31st August 2011. The letter was furnished to the board meeting on 13th April 2011 but not accepted until the board meeting on 18th May 2011. After a board meeting on 28th June 2011, the board decided to resign. The claimant was asked to reconsider her resignation but she proceeded to retire on 31st August 2011.On 11th October 2011 the claimant’s representative wrote to the parish priest who became a single member manager of the school in place of the board alleging that the claimant had been constructively dismissed from her position as principal having been forced into retirement by being compelled to engage in extensive monitoring of the teacher in question. The letter further stated that the claimant wished to withdraw her retirement and resume her position otherwise failure to do so would result in proceedings.DeterminationThe Tribunal noted “…this is an unusual claim of constructive dismissal in that the claimant felt able to remain in the employment having submitted her notice of resignation/retirement at the board meeting of 13 April and it being accepted on 18th May 2011 until it became effective on 21st August 2011“.The Tribunal further noted that it was clear that there were “profound and fundamental problems” in the school on an ongoing basis. It also stated that it was “not rational” to require the claimant to be in the classroom with the teacher in question at all times and “….this requirement was indicative of an intention on the part of the respondent to undermine the employment relationship between the respondent and the claimant“.The Tribunal accepted that the whilst the claimant had never raised a formal grievance until the letter of 11th October, the respondent was well aware of the claimant’s level of dissatisfaction given the number of board meetings which took place and which the claimant had to leave where issues surrounding the teacher in question were being discussed. It also observed that there was no reply to the letter of 11th October in which it was asserted that the new principal did not have to engage in the extensive and impossible mentoring.The claimant was awarded €50,000 under the Unfair Dismissal Acts 1977 (as amended)

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