A DISABLED teaching assistant has won a five-figure settlement after being subjected to a campaign of bullying by a headteacher.

Sandra Clifford, who lives with a painful muscle condition, has said she felt ‘degraded and humiliated’ by the seven-year ordeal she went through at Aycliffe Village Primary School.

She accused ex-headteacher Jed Gargen of harassing her because of her disabilities and telling her could do what he wanted.

Ms Clifford has now been awarded a £35,200 payout from Durham County Council after an employment tribunal ruled she had suffered discrimination.

She had began working as a volunteer teaching assistant at the County Durham school in September 2005 and went on to become an employee in February of the following year.

During an employment tribunal, held in Middlesbrough, it was claimed that Mr Gargen told Ms Clifford she was making ‘mountains out of molehills’ when she tried to change her timetable to give herself a lunch break.

She said: “Over the course of my employment, the headteacher treated me unfavourably and harassed me because of my disabilities.

"His conduct towards me worsened over the last year.

"I considered that requests for reasonable adjustments were not taken seriously and that the respondent was reluctant to or failed to implement them."

In one incident Ms Clifford claimed she lost her break because she was accompanying a special needs child to a swimming class, but said Mr Gargen told her he eats his lunch on the bus so "why can’t you?"

The tribunal heard that Ms Clifford, who has fibromyalgia and chronic fatigue syndrome, experienced constant pain on a daily basis and that her health had deteriorated since her first diagnosis around the year 2000.

Ms Clifford said: "The headteacher told me on many occasions during my sickness absences that I was causing stress and extra work for my colleagues and that I was costing the school money due to those absences.

"This was hostile, intimidating and humiliating."

It was also claimed that the headteacher told Ms Clifford that she was no longer permitted to attend hospital appointments in working hours and that she was having too much time off.

She told the hearing she was ‘bullied’ over a seven-year period and ended her employment in December 2017.

By that time she was also suffering from rheumatoid arthritis and said it had become impossible for her to continue working due to her poor health.

The tribunal heard that around that time, Ms Clifford's doctor recorded: “She continued with her job as a teaching assistant until approximately 18 months ago, therefore mid 2016, when she started to suffer what she describes as bullying at work with significant deterioration in her mental health."

The medical report went into details of her poor mental health and said that there was 'a significant exacerbation and deterioration of her fibromyalgia'.

It stated: "Her mobility has gone from using a stick 20 per cent of the time to being virtually wheelchair bound.

"She has a mixture, as stated, of fibromyalgia and chronic fatigue syndrome and has more recently been diagnosed with rheumatoid arthritis.

"More recent hospital admission with significant chest pain now put down to fibromyalgia flare-up.”

In 2006, when Ms Clifford claims her health was better, she said she was not allowed to undertake training for an advanced paediatric first aid certificate, nor was she allowed to undertake fire safety officer training shortly thereafter.

She claims she was able to do the course and asked to participate but was refused by Mr Gargen.

Employment Judge Johnson said: "The manner in which she was addressed by the headmaster amounted to both unfavourable treatment and harassment.

"It was unwanted conduct which had the effect of violating the claimant’s dignity and creating an intimidating, hostile, degrading, humiliating or offensive environment for her."

Ms Clifford was awarded £35,242 from Durham County Council for disability discrimination, disability harassment, and victimisation.

Helen Lynch, head of legal and democratic services at Durham County Council, said: “We have received the tribunal's decision however it is not appropriate for us to comment on individual employment matters.”