Joanne Lucas, an experienced and motivated drama teacher, joined John Kyrle High School in Ross-on Wye in 2015. She worked extremely hard to improve her one-person department and single-handedly stage school productions. Coming from a trade union family, she also volunteered her limited spare time to help her colleagues by becoming the school’s NEU rep. In July 2016 she led staff to participate in a national day of action against cuts in pensions. Four years later an Employment Tribunal found that the Head of John Kyrle High School in Ross-on-Wye, Nigel Griffiths, was so angered by her union activity he became determined to dismiss her. Following a seven day hearing conducted over video-links she succeeded in her claims for unfair dismissal and discrimination based on both her trade union activities and her disability. You can read the Guardian’s report into our client’s fight for justice here.
One of Nigel Griffith’s emails simply read “FIGJAM. And (bring me) her file.” when he thought he had found grounds to sack our client. It turns out FIGJAM means “F*** I’m Good, Just Ask Me”. He also sent her a letter threatening police action that the Tribunal found was “designed to intimidate the claimant in the performance of her trade union activities” and which we characterised as “ridiculous, petulant, arrogant and whining”. Griffiths refused to appear before the Tribunal to explain himself.
Joanne was bitten by a Blandford fly in 2015 and suffered pain, fatigue and joint stiffness due to reactive arthritis which was not correctly diagnosed and treated for another two years. In August 2016 her GCSE and A-level pupils did less well in their written exams than she had anticipated. In the modern world of education results are everything and the school were concerned about this. However, instead of considering the impact of her illness on her ability to teach during the school year, the school management seized the opportunity to dismiss her and devised false allegations of gross misconduct, such as deliberately not preparing students for exams, altering performance documents and misrepresenting the true progress of her students.
The Tribunal carefully went through some 3000 pages of evidence and dismissed these reasons. It said: “The Tribunal concluded on the basis of all of the evidence we heard that the main purpose for proceeding down a misconduct process – with allegations of wilful, deliberate, falsifying conduct and allegations of breach of trust – instead of a capability process which would consider the medical issues in more detail, was because of the significant animus that the respondent, and in particular Mr Griffiths, had towards the claimant. We concluded that this animus was expressed in emails and in his requests for evidence which coincided with the claimant’s trade union activities. We concluded that this animus was inextricably linked to the claimant’s trade union activities. It was this factor, we concluded, which triggered the disciplinary process instead of a capability process, and it was this which led inevitably to the allegations of gross misconduct.” (para 214)
It concluded that the only course open to any reasonable employer would have been to consider the pupil’s lack of attainment within the school’s competency process, that this would have led to a proper consideration of her medical condition and she would not have been dismissed. Joanne won on every point except for her claim of direct disability discrimination (simply because the Tribunal reasoned that the school would have treated any trade union activist just as badly whether or not disabled!) The full judgement is available here.
The school governors have responded that, while lessons would be learnt, they do not apologise for trying to get the best for their pupils. A petition to remove the Head and Deputy Head and expressing no confidence in the governing board has attracted over 200 signatures so far. The case will now be listed for a remedies hearing to determine the amount of compensation to be awarded.