A school dinner lady, who was dismissed for bringing her employer into disrepute when she went to the press after her suspension following a bullying incident, has won her employment tribunal case.
Carol Hill was initially suspended from her £125 per month post at Great Tey primary school in Essex in July 2009 after telling a couple that their seven-year old daughter had been tied to a fence and hit with a skipping rope by four boys. She was dismissed three months later after going to a newspaper to tell of her suspension.
But an employment tribunal in Bury St Edmunds in Suffolk found that the dismissal was procedurally unfair as the school made no reasonable investigation into the allegations against Hill and did not provide her with fair disciplinary and appeal hearings, according to the Unison union, which represented her.
The tribunal heard that the girl appeared to have been tied to a playing field fence by her wrist and then whipped across the legs with a skipping rope. The school’s head, Deborah Crabb, said during the three-day hearing that the four boys involved in the incident were playing an “inappropriate game” called ‘prisoners and guards’, which went too far.
The head teacher subsequently sent a letter to the girl’s parents saying: “You may wish to know [the girl] had a minor accident today. She was hurt on the right leg and right wrist with a skipping rope.”
But Hill later gave more details to the girl’s mother at a Scouts meeting outside school and made a written statement to the girl’s family, which was later passed on to the police.
The head teacher told the tribunal that giving details of the incident to the child’s parents was considered a breach of confidentiality, which would have earned her a “final warning”, but that she was sacked for the “offence” of “going to the press” as it brought the school into disrepute.
The school disputed Hill’s unfair dismissal claim, in which she argued that she was not given the correct notice period and complained that her rights to freedom of expression under European law had been breached. Hill also argued that she was sacked because the school governors were “embarrassed by the public outcry” that resulted from newspaper coverage of the event.
A two-day remedies hearing is scheduled to start on 2 February when the employment tribunal will consider whether Hill should either be reinstated or what level of compensation she should be awarded.