Northern Ireland

Board settles lesbian special school teacher case

Tor Bank School
Image caption Tor Bank School's board of governors agreed to review its procedures

A special needs teacher who alleged she was discriminated against for being a lesbian accepted a £15,000 settlement ahead of an industrial tribunal, it has emerged.

The 37-year-old began work at Tor Bank School, Dundonald, in September 2003, but resigned three years later.

She alleged that after colleagues found out about her sexual orientation, the principal and vice-principal conducted a campaign of less favourable treatment, bullying and harassment.

The South Eastern Education and Library Board agreed to pay her the money without any admission of liability

The details are contained in a list released by the commission, which documents the 64 cases which it supported in 2008-09.

'Rebuked advances'

The woman claimed that when she first began work in the school, the principal used sexual innuendo in his conversations with her.

She alleged she rebuked his advances while on the way home from a school night out, a claim he denied.

The teacher did not make a formal complaint at the time, but said the discrimination began after it was discovered she was a lesbian.

She claimed that when she was moved into the classroom nearest the road, the principal said he hoped her "next move would be out the gate".

On one occasion, she claimed, he saw her holding a piece of paper and said he hoped it was her letter of resignation.

When the woman entered a civil partnership with another female employee, she alleged there was no mention in the school newsletter and she was told it would have been offensive to include this.

A financial gift from colleagues upon her civil partnership was given to her in an envelope in private, while other newlyweds had a presentation at assembly, she claimed.

The teacher said her resignation was prompted by frustration at her alleged treatment and strained working relationships, and she claimed constructive dismissal.

Her employers, the South Eastern Education and Library Board, agreed to pay her £15,000 without any admission of liability.

The board reaffirmed their commitment to the principle of equality of opportunity in employment and undertook to ensure their practices complied with national and European equality law.

The school's board of governors agreed to meet the Equality Commission to review the effectiveness of its policies and procedures.

In a statement, the SEELB said it did not comment on individual cases.

Series of complaints

In another case dealt with by the Equality Commission, a County Tyrone priest apologised to a retired school principal who alleged he had harassed her and undermined her work.

Patricia Ann Doherty became principal of All Saints Primary School near Omagh in 1983 and taught there for more than 35 years.

She had made a series of complaints about Father Neil Farren, who was appointed chairman of the school's board of governors in 2001.

Among her grievances were claims Fr Farren would often visit the school unannounced and questioned her about her personal circumstances and whereabouts.

She claimed the priest contacted her late at night and early in the morning about non-urgent matters; that he parked his car near her house for no apparent reason and called to her home uninvited at night; and that he inappropriately commented on her clothing and appearance and put his arm around her.

The teacher also alleged he criticised her work and management of the school and humiliated her at meetings of the board of governors.

Fr Farran told the BBC his disagreement with Ms Doherty arose from differences of opinion over how the school was being run.

He admitted going to her house uninvited on one occasion, but said this was to discuss school business.

He denied doing any of the other things of which he was accused.

'Genuine concerns'

Ms Doherty had complained about her treatment to the CCMS, which administers Catholic schools, but in her statement of claim, she alleged they neither provided her with support nor effectively dealt with her complaints.

The CCMS accepted Ms Doherty had genuine concerns about the way she was treated, while Fr Farren said he sincerely regretted any hurt or distress suffered.

The CCMS did not accept it had failed to deal properly with her complaints or in its duty of care, but acknowledged her concerns and commended her long service and commitment to the school.

It reaffirmed its commitment to equality legislation and agreed to to meet the Equality Commission to review its Equal Opportunities policies, practices and procedures.

The CCMS also agreed to implement any recommendations, including equal opportunities training for its staff and the school's board of governors.

In a statement, the CCMS said the case was "resolved through a form of words, with no compensation payable".

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