Former deputy principal loses psychiatric assessment case
Judge queries why someone did not shout ‘stop’ and urge mediation before lengthy litigation
Mr Justice William McKechnie agreed “some better way must surely exist” rather than eight years been being given to the legal process to try and resolve a situation “so local and so concentrated that one wonders how did it ever get to this level”. Photograph: Reuters
A Supreme Court judge has queried why someone didn’t shout “stop” and urge mediation before lengthy litigation was embarked on by a teacher over being required to undergo psychiatric assessment to see if she was fit to resume work.
Kathleen Fitzpatrick was on paid sick leave for some 365 days in four consecutive years, the court noted.
Mr Justice John Mac Menamin made the remarks when the court dismissed the appeal by Ms Fitzpatrick following a bitter legal battle with the board of management of her former school, St Mary’s National School, Touraneena, Co Waterford.
‘Some better way’
Mr Justice William McKechnie agreed “some better way must surely exist” rather than eight years being given to the legal process to try and resolve a situation “so local and so concentrated that one wonders how did it ever get to this level”.
Ms Fitzpatrick was appointed deputy principal of St Mary’s in 1997 and in 2005 made a complaint to the board alleging difficulties with her treatment by the school principal, Sheenagh Nix, and chairman of the board, Fr Cornelius Kelleher.
She then went on a period of sick leave, later suggested a return to work date of February 2006 and initiated her case in July 2006 after the board invoked a Department of Education circular requiring her to undergo psychiatric assessment.
She lost in the High Court in 2008 and the three-judge Supreme Court yesterday unanimously dismissed her appeal.
In her judgment, Chief Justice Mrs Justice Susan Denham noted Ms Fitzpatrick now teaches in a different school and clause 7.3 of the relevant circular 10/105 relating to medical referrals, central to the challenge, has since been superseded. In those and other circumstances, some of the reliefs sought by Ms Fitzpatrick had “a degree of unreality” and the court’s decision was of “historic” value only, she said.
She upheld findings the department was entitled to stop paying Ms Fitzpatrick’s salary from March 2006 on grounds she had then exceeded the time permitted under national school rules for paid sick leave, 365 days in four consecutive years.