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A teacher formerly employed at an independent school in Northampton has lost her employment law case for unfair dismissal and direct sex discrimination at Bedford Employment Tribunal.

Ms Sarah Cameron (“the Claimant”) commenced employment with Quinton House School as a music teacher in 1991. She alleged that problems started for her in January 2009 when Mr Geraint Jones joined the school as the new headteacher. Ms Cameron claimed that Mr Jones was immediately cold and distant towards her and believed that Mr Jones had drawn up a “hit list” of teachers that he wanted to marginalise or dismiss. She further felt “isolated” by Mr Cameron’s decision to move her music classroom away from the main campus. Further, Ms Cameron complained that Mr Jones had criticised her nose stud and overworked her by placing her in charge of a homework club on Friday afternoon when she was only supposed to work half a day.

The law relating to constructive (unfair) dismissal

In order to have succeeded in a claim for constructive (unfair) dismissal Ms Cameron would have had to have demonstrated on the balance of probabilities that, first of all, she met the test for constructive dismissal. She would therefore have had to have demonstrated that there had been a breach of her contract of employment, that this breach “went to the root” of her contract of employment, that the breach was sufficiently serious to justify her resigning, and that she did not leave too long a period between the breach and her resignation. Once Ms Cameron had met this test on the balance of probabilities she would have had to have demonstrated that she was unfairly dismissed. This is normally a relatively easy bar for Claimants to hurdle as a fundamental (unilateral) breach of their contract of employment is generally not fair.

The law relating to direct sex discrimination

In order to have succeeded in a claim for direct sex discrimination Ms Cameron would have had to show that she was treated less favourably than other comparable male staff members because she is female. The problem for Ms Cameron in the circumstances was that the Employment Judge believed that the root cause of the treatment that Ms Cameron received was not her gender – he simply wished to make the school more efficient and treated all teachers (male and female) alike to achieve this. Ms Cameron wasn’t therefore treated less favourably than other teachers and (if she had been treated less favourably) the Employment Tribunal would probably have found that her less favourable treatment wasn’t because of her gender.

The Employment Tribunal’s decision

The Employment Tribunal dismissed the Claimant’s claims for sex discrimination and unfair dismissal. They found that she had been fairly dismissed (there seems to be no comment on whether she met the test for constructive dismissal) and that she had not succeeded on the balance of probabilities in demonstrating that she had been directly discriminated against.

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