A LIMERICK school principal has been awarded €50,000 after the Employment Appeals Tribunal found she was constructively dismissed from her position at St Brigid’s National School in Singland.
Betty O’Farrell, from Newport, had been “put in an impossible position” in being asked by board of management to constantly supervise a teacher - who the board had been seeking to remove - as well as carry out her functions as principal.
The tribunal heard that the entire board of management had resigned in June 2011 after being frustrated in its efforts to dismiss the teacher concerned.
Ms O’Farrell was appointed principal of the school in August 2005, having started work there in 1979.
Following a visit by the district inspector in November 2005, issues arose over the competence of a teacher at the school.
In March of 2009, the chairman of the board of management had written to the patron of the school, former Bishop of Limerick Dr Donal Murray, seeking his approval to dismiss the teacher concerned.
In December of that year, the chairman received a letter from the Department of Education that correct procedures had not been carried out to effect this.
In the interim, the teacher had invoked the Maynooth Statutes, canon law concerning Catholic schools.
At a meeting at the Limerick Diocesan Office in April 2011, Ms O’Farrell and the chairman of the board of management were informed that the outcome of the canonical process was to deny permission to dismiss the teacher. Procedures used against the teacher had been found to be unfair both in canon law and under statute, Ms O’Farrell and the chairman were told.
The principal at that point expressed her unwillingness to work with the teacher again.
Ms O’Farrell said the chairman of the board of management had told her that if the teacher - who had been on leave from 2009 and was due to return in September 2011 - were to come back to St Brigid’s, it would be necessary for her to constantly monitor the teacher’s classes. She felt she could not stay in the teacher’s class at all times as well as perform her duties as principal and on April 12, 2011, she wrote to the board of management notifying them of her intention to resign. The board at this time was still attempting to find a way to challenge the outcome of the canonical process.
When a proposal to seek a judicial review of that process was rejected, the entire board of management resigned on June 30, 2011.
St Brigid’s parish priest Fr David Gibson then became sole manager of the school and said he had tried to persuade Ms O’Farrell to continue as principal. When this failed, Fr Gibson had set about finding a replacement. Ms O’Farrell retired with effect from August 31, 2011.
Ms O’Farrell’s representatives had written to Fr Gibson on October 11, 2011 asserting that she had been constructively dismissed, given she had been compelled to monitor the teacher in question as well as carry out her functions as principal. No such requirement had been made of the new principal of St Brigid’s NS, the letter stated, adding that Ms O’Farrell now wished to resume her position.
The tribunal accepted that the board of management had required Ms O’Farrell to be in class with the teacher “at all times”.
“This was not rational and it put the claimant in an impossible position. The Tribunal is satisfied that this requirement was indicative of an intention on the part of the respondent to undermine the employment relationship,” the tribunal stated.
Fr Gibson had told the tribunal that he was looking only to the future and “therefore took the decision not to appraise himself of the issues existing before he took over”.
“The tribunal cannot accept that the PP had no knowledge of events leading up to the board resigning and his taking over their function,” the tribunal stated. Fr Gibson had not denied that there was no requirement for the new principal to monitor the teacher concerned, the tribunal noted.
Ms O’Farrell was awarded €50,000 under the Unfair Dismissals Act.
Ms O’Farrell was represented by Richard Liston BL instructed by Jerry Twomey, solicitor. The board was represented by Mairead McKenna BL, instructed by Christine West, solicitor