Sally Cowen represents teacher awarded ET compensation

Newcastle ET this week awarded a former teacher substantial damages for unfair dismissal after he was dismissed by the school for making comments on social media about the way in which the school was run. The ET found that Ged Thomas was a whistleblower at Berwick Academy, who highlighted to the school, the local council and the DfE that the school was not being run to the benefit of the local community and that pupils’ education was being harmed.

He was treated unfairly by the school when they investigated social media posts he made following his whistleblowing. The dismissing officer was manipulated by others in the senior management team to dismiss Mr Thomas without investigating why he had posted on social media. The ET found that if they had, they would have seen that he was referring to protected disclosures. Instead they focused on the means by which he had made his comments and based on that alone, they dismissed him for bringing the school into disrepute.

The case raised issues in relation to Royal Mail Group v Jhuti [2019] UKSC 55, SC due to the dismissing manager being manipulated by others in the senior management team and also in relation to Mr Thomas raising his whistleblower status during his disciplinary meeting.

The ET found that the appeal was heard by new Governors who were independent of the previous management and therefore his dismissal, whilst unfair in the ‘ordinary’ (s.98 ERA 1996) sense, could not be considered a ‘whistleblowing dismissal’ (s.103A ERA 1996).

Sally Cowen represented Mr Thomas via the Direct Access Scheme in Cloisters during this long running case and was able to help him to present his case to the ET to his best advantage, with support from National Education Union for the remedy stage.

The ET concluded that : “Ms Cowen’s submissions changed my view. She submitted even if the disclosures were not the principal reason, the dismissal was still unfair. That the claimant had made protected disclosures without being heeded should have prompted the panel to consider further whether dismissal was within the band of reasonable responses Romanowska-v-Aspirations Care Ltd EAT/0015/14. I agree they should have and think they would have but for the claimant not recognising any fault, and being as confrontational at the appeal, as he had been at the earlier hearing. I ask myself why. He may have adopted extreme rhetoric because he is natural to him, though that is not the impression I formed of him, and it does not sit comfortably with his many years of patience and restraint . Far more probably because he had such an unfair first hearing, he “over-compensated”. In my judgment his stubborn refusal to admit any fault was the consequence of everything which had gone before”. The ET concluded that Mr Thomas contributed to his unfair dismissal by 50%.

In the remedy judgment the ET also accepted Mr Thomas’ position that due to the rural area and the close knit community no other local school within commuting distance would “touch him with a barge pole” until the liability hearing was completed and awarded him damages for his loss of earnings to date.

This claim is a great example of the fantastic work done by Cloisters direct access group to help those with meritorious claims to present them to the ET in the most advantageous way.

It is also an example of the large number of teachers who speak out about the way in which their schools are being mis-managed and are then treated badly or dismissed by the managers they seek to criticise. Sally Cowen and others in the Direct Access team at Cloisters are happy to help those who wish to bring claims of this nature.