Glasgow 'failed' victim of head's chat-up

3rd June 2005 at 01:00
Glasgow came in for strong criticism this week for its handling of a sex discrimination complaint at St Roch's Secondary in the city.

But Mary Robinson, an English teacher at the school who claimed she was sexually harassed when Chris Nairn, her headteacher, made remarks such as "Phwoar, aren't you a babe?", lost her claim of discrimination.

Despite rejecting Mrs Robinson's complaints of sex discrimination and victimisation, however, an employment tribunal blamed the city council for allowing the case to go as far as it did.

It was "singularly unimpressed" by the way the council handled Mrs Robinson's complaints. Had it handled matters more effectively, the tribunal proceedings could have been avoided.

If an apology had been made and an acknowledgement given that Chris Nairn's conduct had been inappropriate, the proceedings might not have been initiated, the ruling stated.

At no stage was Mrs Robinson made aware Mr Nairn had been instructed to apologise to her. The matter was compounded by the way the council left it to Mr Nairn to arrange a meeting with her and discuss how to move forward.

"The tribunal considered that, on any view, that meeting should have been convened and chaired by someone other than Mr Nairn and indeed by someone to whom he was accountable."

The ruling added: "To give the impression to the claimant that Mr Nairn was convening and running the meeting was singularly inappropriate. It implied that he had been vindicated."

The tribunal also criticised the four and a half months it took to handle her complaint and the fact Mrs Robinson was not offered counselling. "In short, the tribunal considered that the claimant was ill-served by the respondents in the manner in which they handled her complaint and its immediate aftermath. It has considerable sympathy for the claimant in this regard."

Mr Nairn admitted calling Mrs Robinson a babe but denied there was any sexual connotation. He also admitted he used to call pupils "babe" but said he did not do so any longer.

The tribunal found Mr Nairn to be essentially honest if somewhat eccentric.

"The way he gave evidence, at times in a dramatic fashion, supported the picture painted of the unusual way he conducted himself about the school."

Spencer Patrick, the tribunal chairman, said: "He impressed the tribunal as being a committed and dedicated headteacher. At the same time, he surprised the tribunal with his naivety about how his conduct might be interpreted.

He also left the tribunal with reservations about his management style and skills."

A council spokesman said: "We are obviously pleased that this situation has been resolved to the satisfaction of the council. We will consider the implications of the full judgment in due course and will take any further action as deemed appropriate."

The Educational Institute of Scotland "noted with interest the comments about the maladroit handling of the complaints from Mrs Robinson" and hoped that in future such cases would be handled more professionally.

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