Over the last three years, Philip Grehan’s case against the board of management of St Joseph’s School for Deaf Boys has been heard first by the Rights Commissioner, then the Labour Court, then the High Court, and finally by the Labour Court again.
Mr Grehan first took the case to the Rights Commissioner in 2013 arguing that the school had contravened the Protection of Employees (Fixed-Term Work) Act by employing him on five successive fixed-term contracts covering a period of five years starting in 2007 but was refusing to provide him with a contract of indefinite duration.
When the Rights Commissioner found against Mr Grehan, he appealed the decision to the Labour Court.
His union representative, Deirdre O’Connor of the Irish National Teachers Organisation, told the court that in January and December 2011, the complainant queried the principal as to whether he was entitled to a contract of indefinite duration by virtue of his service in the school. He was told he had no entitlement because he had “subbed for different teachers in the school”.
The school argued that Mr Grehan had been employed subbing on fixed-term contracts with some intervening gaps. It said all of the contracts were temporary to replace permanent staff who were on “special leave, adoptive leave, career break, or secondment”.
While it said Mr Grehan was a very talented and valued teacher, there were no permanent vacancies in the period to which to appoint him.
After considering the submissions of both sides the Labour Court said it was satisfied that a contract dated September 1, 2010, gave rise to an entitlement to a contract of indefinite duration since it sought to extend the period of his fixed-term employment beyond four years and became one of indefinite duration. It said he should be reinstated with effect from that date and be paid any arrears of remuneration since the date of his dismissal up to the date on which the reinstatement took effect.
“In ordering this form of redress the Court is influenced by the Respondent’s comments that it had the highest regard for the Complainant who served the school and pupils diligently with a high standard of teaching and that his teaching record, expertise and insight into deaf culture was a great loss,” the court said.
However, that decision was appealed by the school to the High Court on a point of law and, in a judgment delivered in October 2015 the High Court allowed the appeal and sent the matter back to the Labour Court for re-hearing.
The court’s ruling in favour of Mr Grehan, signed off on March 1, said he should be reinstated from September 2010, should have seniority in his employment given the length of time the contract of indefinite duration would now be in place, and found that he had accrued €88,397 in owed remuneration.