In Agoreyo v London Borough of Lambeth, the High Court has ruled that the suspension of a teacher was in breach of contract, entitling her to resign and treat herself as constructively dismissed.
Ms Agoreyo was a primary school teacher who commenced work at a school in Lambeth in 2012. She was subject to allegations that she had, on three occasions, used unreasonable force against a child in her class who was extremely difficult to manage. The Head Teacher had investigated two of these incidents and determined that Ms Agoreyo had not used unreasonable force.
Soon after, the Executive Head told Ms Agoreyo that she was being suspended so that the allegations could be investigated. The teacher submitted a handwritten resignation letter on the same day, making reference to “a lot of very unpleasant issues”. The suspension letter stated that suspension was not a disciplinary sanction but was a “neutral act” imposed in order that the investigation could be conducted fairly.
Ms Agoreyo, who did not have the requisite length of service to bring a constructive unfair dismissal claim, brought a breach of contract claim in a county court. She argued that her suspension was a repudiatory breach of contract as it was not reasonable or necessary to suspend her in order to conduct a fair investigation. The county court dismissed the claim.
The High Court did not agree. It held that the suspension was in breach of the implied term that employer and employee should not act in a way likely to damage or destroy the relationship of mutual trust and confidence between them. The Court took into account the fact that the Head Teacher had found two of the allegations were not well founded and had not considered disciplinary action to be necessary. It overturned the county court’ s finding that the teacher had been suspended because of the employer’ s duty to protect children as this was not the reason given for the suspension in the letter to Ms Agoreyo. The Court also held that the employer had breached the contract by suspending the teacher just a few days after putting in place additional support in the classroom when the claimant had been requesting such support for some weeks.