A former teacher has been awarded £56,500 after a tribunal ruled she was unfairly dismissed from her job at an independent fee-paying school in Northern Ireland, it can be revealed today.
The industrial tribunal concluded that Rockport School ran a “sham redundancy exercise” which resulted in Eveline Gordon from Newtownards being dismissed in June 2007.
Mrs Gordon (43) had worked at the school for 19 years, including periods as acting principal and also as temporary deputy head.
She said: “Taking the case to industrial tribunal was never about the money, it was about getting justice after years of loyal service.”
Her case was supported by her union, the Association of Teachers and Lecturers (ATL).
Two other members of the school’s former senior management team were also in dispute with Rockport over its restructuring plan but agreed to accept a compromise agreement and left the school in 2007.
Rockport, which has around 200 pupils, charges annual fees of up to £10,272 for day pupils and up to £15,822 a year for boarders.
The Belfast Telegraph has obtained a copy of the tribunal’s decision — which runs for 25 pages.
In 2007 the principal, Clare Osborne, decided to restructure the school’s management from a principal and three heads of school to a principal, deputy principal and four new heads of faculty. It was anticipated that teaching numbers would reduce as a result.
Mrs Gordon applied for the new position of vice principal, but was unsuccessful.
The document states that restructuring of the school’s senior management team took place at a time when staff morale was very low, the school was having financial issues because of falling pupil numbers and it also did not have a redundancy policy.
The tribunal found “a number of discrepancies and problems” with the interview process — including that the interviewers’ marking sheets had been completed in pencil and showed signs of several alterations.
It also heard that Ms Osborne had “already made up her mind that the claimant was not going to remain at the school”.
It concludes: “The redundancy exercise in relation to the claimant was a sham exercise, down to and including the claimant’s appeal against the redundancy decision which was purportedly conducted by Mr Marshall from the board of governors but was in fact drafted by Ms Osborne.”
Mrs Gordon said: “I was devastated by what happened to me.
“I’m delighted by the verdict. I now just want to get my career back on track and get back to teaching children, which is all I have ever wanted to do.”
The school’s principal, Clare Osborne, said: “Mrs Gordon brought her case to tribunal on three grounds: sexual discrimination, disability discrimination and unfair dismissal.
“The tribunal found the school had not discriminated against the claimant on the grounds of gender or disability, but on this occasion found in Mrs Gordon's favour as to the redundancy procedure.”
Mark Langhammer, director of the ATL in Northern Ireland, commented: “We are pleased that justice has prevailed and Mrs Gordon has won her claim for unfair dismissal.
“As the industrial tribunal pointed out, the whole redundancy process was a sham.
“The school behaved incredibly badly towards its staff, and the senior management team in particular.
“Being an independent school is no justification for not having a written redundancy policy and following employment practice.
“Independent schools are not above the law.
“We will fight cases of discrimination and unfair treatment against our members where, and whenever they occur.”