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Council could pay six figure compensation bill to bullied ex-teacher

First published in News The Northern Echo: Photograph of the Author by

A CASH-STRAPPED council could foot a six figure compensation bill after admitting defeat in its efforts to overturn a ruling in the case of a bullied ex-teacher.

Durham County Council had applied for permission to the Court of Appeal to challenge the outcome of an employment appeal tribunal in respect of Karen Hall, but this has now been refused.

A fresh employment tribunal hearing – which is expected next year – will now decide the level of compensation to be paid to Mrs Hall, unless agreement can be reached between the two parties.

The Northern Echo understands this could be a six figure sum covering future career loss and pension rights and which will also take into account the council’s failure to implement previous recommendations in respect of the former teacher’s case.

Meanwhile, the council will have to pay Mrs Hall’s “substantial” legal costs,  on top of its own legal bill. It had already spent £11,068 on consultants to investigate the case.

The five year-long saga involving the council and Mrs Hall, from Hamsterley, County Durham, began in 2007 when she instigated employment tribunal proceedings over her treatment while she was employed at West Cornforth Primary School.

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A year later a tribunal panel found that she had suffered 18 separate acts of victimisation, along with continuous and relentless bullying, and awarded her damages of more than £50,000.

She carried on working at the school, but was fired in August 2009 and brought a new claim based on her dismissal.

A review of the original judgement found that her selection for redundancy was caused by the council’s failure to implement the tribunal’s recommendations, as agreed, which included restoring her to the post of “literacy leader” and supporting an application for a headship qualification, and was therefore a consequence of the victimisation she suffered.

Durham County Council appealed those findings at an employment appeal tribunal, claiming they were “illogical and perverse” and unsupported by the evidence, but failed on all grounds.

The authority had hoped to overturn the findings at the Court of Appeal, but in her judgement appeal court judge Dame Janet Smith said: “It appears to me that the Employment Appeal Tribunal has dealt comprehensively and correctly with all the points raised before them and I can see no prospect that the Court of Appeal will find that the Employment Tribunal fell into error.”

Mrs Hall – described as a dedicated and committed teacher – has funded all her own costs to date. She is actively looking for work, but does not plan to return to teaching.

The 40-year-old does not want to comment publicly at this stage.

In a statement Colette Longbottom, head of legal and democratic services at Durham County Council, said: “Before taking any legal action the council is mindful of the potential financial implications involved.

“In this case, as proceedings are ongoing, we do not yet know what the final costs will be.

“We believed we raised some substantial points in the appeal application and we are disappointed with the ruling, but will not be seeking to appeal further.

“The matter will proceed in the Employment Tribunal unless a negotiated settlement can be reached.”

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