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In August 2015, an openly-gay primary school headteacher had sex with two 17-year-old males he met through the dating app Grindr.

The matter was investigated by the police and the local authority’s Social Services department, and the teacher was subsequently suspended.

Whilst no criminal offence had taken place and there were no child protection issues, the school decided to take disciplinary action and appointed a local authority employee to carry out an investigation which was later found to be flawed and “laden with value judgments”.

At the disciplinary stage, the panel of governors who were appointed to hear the case were not qualified, experienced, nor trained in serious disciplinary matters. The tribunal found that the panel had no understanding of the reasons for dismissal and relied heavily on the local authority’s reasoning, rather than coming to their own conclusions.

The headteacher appealed the decision to dismiss him, which continued his employment, but he later resigned before the appeal could be heard due to continued failings by his employer.

The tribunal found that the school’s actions amounted to a breach of the implied term of mutual trust and confidence. Furthermore, the school’s mistreatment of the headteacher was severe enough to reverse the burden of proof in relation to the claim of sexual orientation discrimination. This required the school to prove that its actions had not been motivated by the sexual orientation of the headteacher and, as it was unable to do this, the discrimination claim was successful.

After the school’s unsuccessful appeal to the Employment Appeal Tribunal, the case was referred back to the Cardiff Employment Tribunal for a remedy hearing to decide how much to award the headteacher in compensation.

As his claim included discrimination, there was no cap on the amount of compensation that could be awarded to the headteacher. In its judgment, the Employment Tribunal awarded the headteacher a total of £696,255.65. This included over £200,000 in loss of earnings and £286,424 in pension losses.

Lessons learned

Employers in the education sector regularly face difficult decisions about employees that need to balance employment rights with the expectations of pupils, parents and other stakeholders. Policies require governors to be on decision-making panels, but rarely are schools able to provide comprehensive training to these volunteers to equip them for every eventuality.

As well as following a fair procedure when it comes to managing staff, schools should consider the benefit of having adequate insurance in place to cover the cost of defending claims as and when they arise. In response to this, we have launched an employment disputes protection scheme to help protect schools against unexpected legal costs and tribunal awards and to provide peace of mind for decision-makers.

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