A Co Kildare community school has been ordered to pay €20,000 compensation to a teacher for his unfair dismissal.
At the Workplace Relations Commission (WRC), adjudicator Andrew Heavey directed Scoil Mhuire Community School in Clane, Co Kildare, to compensate John (Sean) Brilly for his unfair dismissal on procedural grounds.
Mr Brilly was employed as a teacher and also held a post of responsibility as school ICT co-ordinator until his dismissal in February 2020.
Mr Heavey said that the decision to dismiss Mr Brilly “was not within the range of reasonable responses of a reasonable employer” and that the teacher was denied fair procedures and natural justice.
He was dismissed for gross misconduct arising from the fallout from an independent report that stated that allegations he made against another individual in November 2016 were found to be unsubstantiated.
In evidence at the hearing, Mr Brilly stated when he saw the independent investigator’s report into his complaint, it was clear to him that the complaints he submitted “were now to be used against him in what turned out to be an unfair and flawed disciplinary process leading to his dismissal”.
Mr Brilly stated that he wanted to co-operate with the investigator but was shocked at the contents of the investigation report and stated that the report was compiled without any input from him.
In evidence, the school principal stated that Mr Brilly handed him a letter in November 2016 saying: “I need you to do something about this” and the principal sourced the independent investigator on the basis that he needed someone who “understood schools and IT issues”.
The investigator’s report, which was issued on April 4, 2017, raised concerns in relation to the motivation of Mr Brilly in submitting the complaint.
The school principal, having formed the view that Mr Brilly was motivated by malice in making the complaint against the one individual and also in naming three other people in subsequent correspondence, compiled a report for the board of management and initiated disciplinary procedures.
The disciplinary process was paused in May 2017 as Mr Brilly had referred other matters to the WRC at that time and recommenced in May 2019 following the conclusion of that process.
The board of management found that Mr Brilly was guilty of gross misconduct and notified him by letter of June 8, 2019, that he was to be dismissed. The dismissal was upheld on appeal and Mr Brilly was dismissed in February 2020.
In his findings, Mr Heavey found that Mr Brilly “was denied fair procedures and natural justice when the complaints he made, were found to be unsubstantiated and essentially, he was disciplined, found guilty of gross misconduct and dismissed as a result".
Mr Heavey said that it was suggested that Mr Brilly’s complaint was submitted as a result of personal malice aimed at discrediting the person against whom the first complaint was made, as well as the three other individuals.
“However, this was an issue that should have been the subject of a separate and distinct investigation as opposed to a stage 4 disciplinary process against the complainant following the complaints he submitted. It is my view that for the purpose of transparency and fairness, a new investigation process into the complainant’s actions should have been initiated at that point in time."
Mr Heavey found that the immediate escalation of the issue to stage 4 disciplinary procedure prevented Mr Brilly from partaking in an open, fair and impartial investigation/disciplinary process.
Mr Brilly told the hearing that the 2016 complaint was submitted to the principal “due to legitimate concerns”.