Spiritan-run Templeogue College resolves victimisation claims taken by two teachers

Legal Challenge

21 November 2022

A dispute between the Spiritan-run Templeogue College and two of its longest-serving teachers, who had taken victimisation claims against the Dublin secondary school, has been resolved.

The deal follows robust exchanges by barristers at a hearing on Wednesday which ended with the first adjudicating officer assigned to the case saying she was left with “no option” but to recuse herself.

The teachers, Patricia O’Connell and Bríd Stack, had complained to the WRC under the Employment Equality Act alleging they were subjected to exclusionary treatment by the senior management team at the school because they made complaints of ageist discrimination.

“I’m delighted to advise you the matter has been resolved on terms acceptable and agreeable to both parties,” said the teachers’ barrister Conor Duff BL.

“I think you’re withdrawing the complaints,” said counsel for the secondary school Claire Bruton BL.

“We’re withdrawing the complaints,” Mr Duff said.

The new adjudicating officer assigned to the case, Kevin Baneham, congratulated the parties on the agreement.

There was applause from the group of teachers who had attended both days of the hearing this week at the WRC headquarters at Lansdowne House in Dublin 4.

The original issue, which concerned the withdrawal of an allowance paid to them by the school for taking up assistant principal duties, was “resolved” by the school’s board of management last year and the original complaints withdrawn, the tribunal was told.

School guidance counsellor Patricia O’Connell, who gave evidence on Wednesday, said she ought to have been assigned a key role in the organised response to a “critical incident” last year involving claims by a parent that three students had been using cannabis resin.

Instead, she said Templeogue College principal Niamh Quinn was “quite dismissive” in her initial response when she sought information – and the complainant said the principal later told her: “Due to the sensitive nature of the email [she] was restricted under GDPR and she would inform [me] when we came back over Christmas”.

“I was frozen out. I was excluded. I’m assuming the reason I was frozen out was because of victimisation for taking my complaint,” Ms O’Connell told the tribunal at a hearing on Wednesday.

Ms O’Connell said this was in contrast with the school’s response to a tragic incident before she and Ms Stack lodged their discrimination complaints, in which she said she had been involved “from the very beginning” in accordance with the policy, she said.

She also said she and her colleague, Ms Stack, had not been invited to a series of meetings of the assistant principals at the school in April, May and June 2021, which she said she ought to have been attending.

Historically, assistant principal posts had been assigned on the basis of seniority to the longest-serving teachers at a secondary school, with a salary top-up of €4,750 paid for by the Department of Education, the tribunal heard.

However, Ms O’Donnell said that as some of those eligible wanted to take on other duties to school leadership, including coaching in sport, other long-serving teachers including herself and Ms Stack were promoted in their place and the top-up paid directly by the school.

Mr Duff put it to her that it would be the school’s case that the three AP1 meetings were arranged for those AP1s whose positions were paid for by the Department of Education only.

The complaint’s evidence was that no such distinction had ever been drawn since she originally took up the post in 2008.

Bias claims

Ms O’Connell was giving evidence following the collapse of the first adjudication process in the matter earlier on Wednesday, when the official hearing the case at that point, Niamh O’Carroll, recused herself.

It followed an application for recusal by Mr Duff, who said it was “not appropriate” that the school’s barrister, Ms Bruton, had phoned Ms O’Carroll on Wednesday morning.

He claimed it would lead a reasonable observer to develop an apprehension of objective bias.

The case had been delayed by a “mix-up” which saw the adjudicating officer preparing to hear the case from a remote location – but the parties attending Lansdowne House in person.

“That’s not correct. That is not correct. I made a phone call in front of you,” said Ms Bruton, adding that she thought the claim “outrageous”.

“I wasn’t privy to the phone call between yourself and Ms Bruton. I have no idea of what was said,” Mr Duff told the adjudicating officer.

Ms O’Carroll said she had heard Mr Duff’s voice over the phone line at the start of the call with Ms Bruton.

Ms O’Carroll rose to consider the matter before returning to the hearing room a short time later to state: “I have considered the application made by Mr Duff. While I don’t personally agree [and] I believe same to be factually incorrect, when counsel makes an application for recusal that exposes the adjudicating officer to other matters.

“I don’t think I’ve any option but to recuse myself,” she said.

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