Art teacher’s case alleging bullying cannot continue, High Court rules

Special circumstance allowing for renewal of summons by Irene Nolan rejected

An art teacher's action claiming she was bullied and harassed for nearly 10 years at her school cannot continue, a High Court judge has ruled.

Irene Nolan (56) sued the board of management of St Mary's Diocesan School in Drogheda, Co Louth, claiming, between April 2008 and October 2017, she was subjected to bullying by four other teachers.

The school denied her claims.

An independent investigator in 2016 upheld the vast majority of her 26 complaints, the court heard.

The investigator said she was targeted in an unprovoked, unwelcome, persistent and intimidatory way which was largely psychological and subtle in nature. It included “unwanted physical contact” and being subjected to “constant sneering”.

Continuation of bullying

Among her claims in her action for damages for personal injuries, Ms Nolan said, notwithstanding the content of the investigator’s report, the defendant failed to take any adequate measures to address the bullying or prevent its continuation.

Last November, the High Court agreed to renew her personal injury summons so the case could proceed. The school then applied to the court to set aside that order on grounds the delay in bringing summons did not constitute special circumstances. Ms Nolan opposed the application.

On Thursday, Mr Justice Anthony Barr ruled there was a deliberate decision made by her solicitor not to serve her personal injury summons on the defendant until a separate dispute in relation to her application for early retirement was resolved in 2019.

This did not constitute a special circumstance allowing for the renewal of her summons, he said.

Early retirement

As a result, the judge set aside last November’s High Court order renewing the summons.

Earlier, the judge said her solicitor had stated he made a decision not to serve the summons after it was issued in July 2018. This was because his client had submitted an application to the Department of Education for early retirement on ill-health grounds and because she was engaged in a multiplicity of disputes with the school at the time.

The solicitor felt that, given her mental state, it was not appropriate to serve the summons as this would have been “too much” for her.

The solicitor had argued there was very good reason for justifying this decision given his client was “overwhelmed by the multitude of fora in which she was involved and was during this entire period on sick leave and suffering from significant distress and anxiety”.