#163;56k payout after 'sham' redundancy

28th August 2009 at 01:00
Tribunal finds teacher was unfairly dismissed in spurious restructure of school management

A senior teacher at a leading private school in Northern Ireland has won more than #163;56,500 in compensation after being forced from her job in a "sham" redundancy process.

Eveline Gordon worked at Rockport School in Craigavad, near Belfast, for 19 years until she was dismissed after the appointment of a new headteacher.

The school's head, Clare Osborne, targeted Mrs Gordon having already decided she wanted to get rid of her, an employment tribunal in Northern Ireland found.

The school was facing financial difficulties, with falling pupil numbers, and needed to restructure its staff.

But the school, which charges day fees of up to #163;10,272 a year, failed to carry out the process fairly and drew up job criteria knowing that Mrs Gordon would not be qualified, the tribunal said.

Concerns were raised by Mrs Gordon's union, the Association of Teachers and Lecturers, that she was being targeted despite her long service and contribution to "keeping the school on the rails during difficult times".

Rockport markets itself as the only school of its kind in Northern Ireland - "an independent pre-prep, prep and senior school based on public school lines".

Mrs Gordon began working there in 1987 in her first teaching job and was promoted to head of maths, then director of studies with the senior school. She had also been an acting headteacher to cover for a sick colleague.

But Mrs Osborne, who was appointed principal in September 2005, said she wanted to restructure the management team and introduce new positions.

The criteria drawn up for the jobs ruled out Mrs Gordon, the tribunal found. She was shortlisted for an interview, but before it had taken place Mrs Osborne had already made a series of notes criticising her professional integrity, loyalty and knowledge of the curriculum.

"The tribunal determines that the principal, Mrs Osborne, who was effectively in control of the redundancy process from start to finish, had already decided that the claimant was to leave the school," the ruling said.

It added: "The tribunal concludes that the redundancy exercise in relation to the claimant was a sham exercise."

Mrs Osborne's evidence was "evasive and at times contradictory" on some points, the ruling said. It noted that there was "considerable antipathy" between Mrs Osborne and Mrs Gordon.

Two claims that the school was guilty of disability and sex discrimination were dismissed, but it was found guilty of unfair dismissal.

Mrs Gordon, who is currently working as a supply teacher in state schools, said: "I was devastated by what happened to me. I had thought I would be at the school for the whole of my working life.

"It was a lovely school with a family atmosphere, and to find out after 19 years that they didn't see me as part of the family was heart-wrenching. My career has been wrecked.

"Taking the case to industrial tribunal was never about the money. It was about getting justice after years of loyal service."

Mary Bousted, ATL general secretary, said: "Independent schools are not above the law. We will fight cases of discrimination and unfair treatment against our members where and whenever they occur."

A statement from the school said: "Mrs Gordon was made redundant as part of a major restructuring exercise in 2007. The school sought legal advice throughout the restructure and thoroughly believed it was following correct procedure."

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