A Court has found that an LEA who failed to protect a Head Teacher from bullying and harassment by two School governors was liable for the psychiatric injury caused in the case of Connor v Surrey County Council, [unreported].

Implications

Although this case relates to the duties owed by an LEA to one of its employees, and in particular its duty to take reasonable care for the health and safety of employees in the workplace and so to protect the employee from bullying and harassment by Governors of the School, this decision could equally apply to other organisations, such as companies protecting their employees from bullying and harassment by members of the Board or shareholders, or Trustees in the case of a Charity.

Employers should also note that once the Equality Bill comes into force next year, the right to bring a claim on the basis of harassment by third parties will be extended so that it applies to all of the prohibited grounds, including sex, disability, age, race, religion or belief and sexual orientation. At present, it is only under the Sex Discrimination Act 1975 that claims can be brought against an employer, as well as named employees or agents of the employer, for harassment by third parties, including harassment by clients and suppliers.

Employers should start to review their policies and procedures now, and consider training staff, in order to prepare themselves for the introduction of the Equality Bill.

Facts

Ms Connor, a Head Teacher of a Primary School in Surrey, brought a claim for damages for personal injury against her employer, Surrey County Council. She alleged that she had been subjected to a campaign of harassment by two Governors of the School. The two Governors launched an aggressive campaign of “anti-Christian” lobbying against the Head Teacher, and made unfounded allegations of racism against her, causing her to eventually suffer a breakdown. The two Governors in question were also said to have bullied other members of the Governing Body.

After a considerable period of time, one of the Governors was eventually removed from office, but he continued to harass the Head Teacher and wrote to the LEA to say that the School was institutionally racist. Shortly after the Governor’s removal a petition appeared purportedly signed by parents of children at the School which accused the Head Teacher of being racist and Islamaphobic. It also made reference to her part-Jewish heritage. The petition said that the parents no longer had confidence in the Head Teacher. Graffiti offensive to the Head Teacher was also daubed on school walls. The Court said that this document was highly offensive and, in itself, racist against the Head Teacher. The actions caused the Head Teacher and several other members of staff to fear for their safety.

The Head Teacher complained on several occasions to the LEA (the employer) about the conduct of the two Governors. Eventually, she suffered a nervous breakdown as a result of the actions of the Governors and the failure of the LEA to protect her from their actions.

The Court held that the LEA had breached its duty of care towards her by failing to take appropriate action to protect her from the harassment by the Governors. The Head Teacher was awarded compensation of £400,000.