Teacher begins High Court action over alleged harassment

A secondary school teacher has claimed before the High Court that she was bullied and sexually harassed by a male colleague.

A secondary school teacher has claimed before the High Court that she was bullied and sexually harassed by a male colleague.

Mary O'Toole, who teaches history, geography and English, claims that on occasions between 1996 and 2000 she was leered at, and inappropriate touched, subjected to verbal insults and demeaned by one of her co-workers at Tullamore College secondary school Mr Jim Mooney, who is not a defendant to the proceedings.

She claims that the VEC did nothing about her complaints concerning the harassment, and that in 2001 she moved to another school. The court also heard that she was driven to breaking point by Mr Mooney's alleged behaviour which resulted in her cutting the tyres of his car, something that she regretted.

Mrs O'Toole's claims are denied by the defendants. Mrs O'Toole (aged 48), a married mother of one, of Whitehall Estate, Tullamore, Co Offaly has brought a personal injuries action against Co Offaly VEC Committee.

She claims that during the course of her employment with the defendant as a teacher at the VEC-run Tullamore College she was harassed, sexually harassed, and intimidated. She claims that the VEC was negligent and in breach of their duty of care towards her and caused her to suffer personal injuries and distress.

She claims that the VEC failed to provide her with a safe place of work, recklessly inflicted emotional suffering and nervous stress.

Opening the case today John Peart SC for Mrs O'Toole said that his client's claim that there was "a campaign" of bulling and harassed by her colleague. This, counsel said, "was known by the school authorities" who he added "didn't help her" and instead appeared "to take the side of the bully."

Counsel said that between 1996 and 2000 there were a number of incidents involving his client and Mr Mooney, such as occasions when it was claimed he leered at Mrs O'Toole and was rude to her, which caused her great distress.

Counsel said that during a social occasion attended by teachers at the school, it was Mrs O'Tooles claim that Mr Mooney said to her that "all women are stupid," and that his client "was stupid and your mother is stupid too."

Counsel said that on another social occasion when Mrs O'Toole, in an attempt to sort out things between them, asked Mr Mooney if they could be friends. However counsel said that in reply Mr Mooney said that "they could not be friends without having sex."

Counsel said that as a result Mrs O'Toole eventually transferred to another school in 2001. Initially she was sent to a school where she had specifically asked not to be sent. However she is now a teacher in Ferbane, Co Offaly.

Counsel added that after the transfer Mrs O'Toole was interviewed by the Gardai after there was an arson attack on the school. This counsel added also greatly upset his client, who had nothing to do with that atrocity.

In her evidence Mary O'Toole said that in the staffroom Mr Mooney would put his hands on her back and rub her and that on occasions when she was walking home from school Mr Mooney drove past her in his car and said to her "would you like a ride Mary" with a grin on his face.

She said that due to this she would not leave the school building until he had driven off. She said that she "felt like a piece of meat" and that Mr Mooney's behaviour was "arrogant" made her uncomfortable and was "very inappropriate."

The case before Mr Justice Iarfhlaith O'Neill continues and is expected to last several weeks.

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