Court of Appeal upholds High Court’s dismissal of teacher's challenge of Education and Training Board’s (ETB) decision to transfer her to another school and place her on administrative leave.

Background

The teacher challenged the validity of the decisions of the ETB to transfer her to a different school and to place her on administrative leave. She alleged that the ETB had failed to implement appropriate disciplinary procedures under Department of Education and Skills Circular 59/2009 (the “Circular”).  This Circular has now been replaced with Circular 71/2014. 

The ETB claimed that the investigation had not proceeded in relation to the complaints due to its concerns about the teacher’s health. The ETB argued that its decision to place the teacher on administrative leave was appropriate.

Decision

The Court of Appeal upheld the High Court decision in dismissing the teacher’s claim.

The Court concluded that it is was not legitimate for the teacher to argue that the Circular was not followed. The Circular’s procedures were followed but the process never advanced beyond the informal stages due to concerns regarding the teacher’s health.

The Court was satisfied that the ETB took appropriate action by transferring the teacher to a smaller school with supports and it noted that this transfer was not punitive in nature. The Court also held that when the teacher refused this transfer, the ETB was entitled to place her on administrative leave with full pay pending an investigation. 

The Court looked at the issue of a procedure having statutory effect.  This did not apply to Circular 59/2009 but does apply to Circular 71/2014.  It was observed that a procedure having statutory effect does not require absolute adherence to every particular element of the procedure.  While this is good news for school management, the Court noted that if the issue had been raised, there could have been criticism regarding the precise steps in the informal part of the disciplinary procedures not having been exactly in conformity with the circular.  Thus, management should ensure compliance with procedures. 

It was also observed that the process had started out as a potential disciplinary matter that was going to be dealt with by an informal process.  It then became a human resources matter of concern about the employee’s health.  In concluding remarks, the Court noted that the problem was not that the ETB medicalised the matter but rather the teacher refused to accept there was a medical element of significance and instead sought to legalise a problem which should have been dealt with otherwise than legally.