The Equality Tribunal recently awarded a former part-time school teacher 18 months’ salary as compensation where her employment contract was terminated as a reaction to her complaints of alleged sexual harassment by her pupils.
The teacher was offered a contract of indefinite duration with the school, subject to a probationary period. On completion of her probation period, she was advised that her employment was being terminated.
The teacher alleged that she was discriminated against by the board of management of the school regarding her conditions of employment, on the grounds of gender. She also alleged that she was sexually harassed by a number of male pupils during her employment. The conduct of the male pupils included name calling and a sexually explicit drawing. She further alleged that the board of management of the school failed to investigate these complaints and that the termination of her employment was a reaction to her complaints of sexual harassment.
The Tribunal found that the teacher was not discriminated against in relation to her conditions of employment, on the grounds of gender. It also found that, although the drawing complained of did constitute sexual harassment, the board of management of the school had a defence to that claim as it took such steps, as were reasonably practicable, to prevent sexual harassment taking place. The board of management of the school had thoroughly investigated the teacher’s complaints and followed the procedures outlined in its policies.
However, the Tribunal concluded that the teacher’s contract was terminated, as a reaction to her complaints of sexual harassment and she was, therefore, victimised. It appeared that in the school’s history, no teacher had ever been dismissed after his/her probationary period. The Tribunal awarded the teacher €75,000 (18 months’ salary) as compensation.
This case illustrates that even where an employer has good human resource policies in place and deals with an employee’s grievance in accordance with those policies, care must be taken to ensure that the employer’s actions after the grievance investigation do not amount to a form of victimisation which by itself exposes the employer to further and potentially significant claims.