Equality - Sick teacher's dignity 'violated' by school

18th October 2013 at 01:00
Tribunal finds against `Eton of the North' in discrimination case

A pound;28,000-a-year private school - once dubbed "the Eton of the North" - "violated" a teacher's dignity by failing to ensure her access to a reliable water supply, an employment tribunal has found.

English teacher Alison Haylock felt forced to resign from Glenalmond College in Perthshire because its frequent water cuts meant she did not have the reliable toilet and handwashing facilities she needed to manage a digestive condition.

The tribunal found that the college had discriminated against and constructively dismissed Ms Haylock after failing to address the water supply problem.

The college, which draws its own water from local burns and springs, suffered interruptions to its water supply on "many occasions", which increased in frequency and severity during Ms Haylock's 12 years at the school, the tribunal said.

The tribunal heard that the school's headteacher, Gordon Woods, known as the warden, had agreed to supply Ms Haylock with a bucket full of water in a toilet near her classroom so that she could continue to flush the toilet during these times, and with antiseptic wipes and gel. The school had also agreed to install a water butt at the home on campus she was obliged to live in under her contract. However, these provisions failed to materialise, the employment tribunal found.

The judgment, released earlier this month, says: "Mr Woods' attitude towards providing staff members with water was that the respondent (Glenalmond College) expected the staff `to look after themselves'."

The school also refused to grant permission for Ms Haylock to live off- campus, despite two other full-time members of teaching staff being allowed to do so.

It also failed to investigate the possibility of moving her to another home on campus with a better water supply, and to explore other options such as installing a chemical toilet.

According to the EIS teaching union, the case amounted to one of the "worst" breaches of the Equality Act it had encountered. "Glenalmond College has shown a flagrant disregard for the legislative position," EIS assistant secretary Drew Morrice said. "We are delighted that the tribunal accepted the arguments we presented."

According to the ruling, the water system has "a fundamental problem", namely the school's 70-year-old supply pipe, which is approximately five miles long and made from asbestos.

The pipe was not "hazardous" to staff and students, the school said, but it was prone to cracking. Teachers were told to keep emergency supplies of bottled water in order to cope with interruptions to supply.

Drinking water and water for flushing toilets was sometimes provided by the school but this was "primarily for the use of boarding pupils". On several occasions, staff were advised to boil the water before drinking it.

It was even suggested by the school that staff could collect water in buckets from an exposed area of shingle in a river, roughly half a mile away from Ms Haylock's house and accessible only down a steep, single-lane track.

When the water was on, the pressure in Ms Haylock's house was so low that for one and a half hours every morning it was impossible to bathe or shower.

The tribunal ruling concludes that the school "harassed" Ms Haylock "by engaging in unwanted conduct" that had "the effect of both violating the claimant's dignity and creating an intimidating, hostile, degrading, humiliating or offensive environment for her".

A spokesperson for Glenalmond College said: "We are very disappointed by the judgment, as we take our responsibilities as an equal opportunities employer very seriously, and the health and well-being of the entire school community is of paramount importance to us. We are currently considering all of the implications of the judge's ruling as well as considering whether to raise an appeal."

Ms Haylock, who is 56, suffers from diverticular disease, which results in frequent visits to the toilet and "abdominal pain of a cramping nature", according to a report by Dr Jonathan Reed, a specialist in occupational health.

The teacher resigned from her post at Glenalmond College in August last year. Compensation will be determined at a future hearing. The college has 42 days in which to appeal.

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