A teacher who allegedly called a male pupil "a little bitch" was denied a proper disciplinary process, the High Court has ruled.
Ms Justice Deirdre Murphy said Pierce Dillon (58), who worked at the fee-paying Catholic University School (CUS) on Leeson Street, Dublin, was entitled to an order quashing a final letter of warning issued to him by the board of management in April 2015.
However, she ruled he was not entitled to an order quashing the board’s finding that he engaged in inappropriate behaviour and language towards the boy.
She found the board’s process was defective because it should first have set up an independent disciplinary board which could have laid a charge of inappropriate behaviour and language that would then have been dealt with at a hearing before the board. Mr Dillon denied making the remark on May 8th, 2014.
According to the school principal’s record of his conversation with the boy about the matter, the pupil said he told Mr Dillon the next day that he was not allowed to call him a “little bitch”. Mr Dillon denied he had done so and the boy told the teacher he was a coward.
The boy also told the principal he was “a bit of a messer in class” but said Mr Dillon made jokes and people reacted in different ways, but that “he feels picked on”.
Mr Dillon, a teacher for 34 years, went on sick leave following the disciplinary process, later resigned from the CUS on medical advice, and has had serious difficulty finding another job since, the court heard.
He says the entire event has had a huge effect on his career and caused serious distress. He has taken a separate constructive dismissal case which is on hold pending his challenge to the disciplinary process.
Ms Justice Murphy said she would not quash the board’s decision that he had engaged in inappropriate behaviour and language. She found the complaints procedure used by the school was part of a contractual arrangement between Mr Dillon and the board which does not have a public law element capable of being judicially reviewed.
Even if she was wrong in this, she would still have refused to quash the board’s finding because of Mr Dillon’s conduct during the processing of the complaint. He initially engaged with it but when it got to the third stage of the process he “threatened judicial review but did nothing”, the judge said.
“Instead of attending with his union representative or colleague and denying the substance of the complaint before the board, he absented himself from the process.”
She said those who do not participate in agreed procedures “cannot later come crying to the courts because they do not like the outcome of the process”. He had allowed the findings of the board to be processed through the disciplinary procedure without objection, merely reserving his rights in the situation, she said.
However, the judge quashed the final warning letter issued to him as the board had fallen into error by making a finding of inappropriate behaviour and language.
The board had erred in attempting to shoehorn its finding into 2009 disciplinary procedures which post-dated procedures agreed in 2000 between the Association of Secondary Teachers, Ireland (ASTI) and the joint managerial body for voluntary secondary schools.
This had resulted in Mr Dillon coming before the disciplinary process as someone found to have already committed an offence rather than a person “charged” with an offence. The net effect of this was he was denied a proper disciplinary process, she said.
While Mr Dillon appeared to have acquiesced in that procedure, merely reserving his rights, this was not sufficient to validate what was a defective process. The judge also urged the ASTI and school boards of management to amend the complaints procedure to reflect a procedure issued in a Department of Education and Science circular in 2009.