pound;56k award for 'sham' dismissal

28th August 2009 at 01:00
Senior teacher wins compensation after "sham" redundancy process

A senior teacher at a leading Northern Ireland private school has won more than pound;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 it failed to carry out the process fairly, the tribunal said.

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 her teaching career there in 1987 and was promoted to head of maths, then director of studies at the senior school. She had also been an acting headteacher.

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.

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 now working as a supply teacher in state schools, said: "I was devastated by what happened. Taking the case to tribunal was never about the money. It was about getting justice after years of loyal service."

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