Sunday 4 December 2016

Teacher wins €88,000 after boss hired private detectives

Tim Healy

Published 25/03/2011 | 05:00

A TEACHER who was followed by private investigators employed by her principal has been awarded €88,000 damages after winning a bullying and harassment case in the High Court.

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Dr Austin Corcoran, a former principal of Ballinteer Community School in south Dublin, behaved "like an offended tyrant" towards Bridget Sweeney after March 2007, said Mr Justice Daniel Herbert.

The judge said the "stalking" of Ms Sweeney (56), a separated mother-of-two of Beaver Row, Donnybrook, Dublin, must have been "truly terrifying".

Ms Sweeney, who worked as a home-school liaison co-ordinator, claimed she had to retire in 2009 from her €70,000-a-year post, as a result of Dr Corcoran's actions.

She also told the court that she was consistently overlooked for a post of responsibility for which she was qualified.

Mr Justice Stewart said Mr Corcoran's conduct was not excused by the fact that Ms Sweeney's own behaviour during the period in question was "inappropriate and should not have been tolerated by the board of management".

The board denied Ms Sweeney's claims and the court heard that complaints of bullying of her by Dr Corcoran in 2005 and 2006 had not been upheld after an investigation by a barrister.

Ms Sweeney had returned to work in March 2007, after 209 days certified sick leave due to work-related stress.

She had a plan to avoid contact with Dr Corcoran if possible.

The judge said that while, from October 2007, no one really knew what she was doing in her working day, he was satisfied she was carrying out her duties. Mr Justice Stewart said the evidence established, on the balance of probabilities, that Ms Sweeney suffered clinical depression between February 2008 and June 2010, arising from the continuous bullying of her by Dr Corcoran.

This mental injury resulting from bullying was reasonably foreseeable by both Dr Corcoran and the board, and there was a breach of the employer's direct duty of care to Ms Sweeney, he said.

The judge said the decision of Dr Corcoran to engage a private investigator for covert surveillance of Ms Sweeney during school hours over four days in February 2008 amounted to "most serious harassment".

He noted that Dr Corcoran hired the investigator after making genuine attempts to have the board and the Department of Education inspectorate take action arising from his reasonable concerns about his "total lack of information" about where Ms Sweeney was and what she was doing.

Gardai

Ms Sweeney noticed she was being followed and reported it to gardai. It then emerged that Dr Corcoran had hired the investigator.

The judge said that despite being fully aware of Ms Sweeney's "long and totally uncharacteristic" absences from work in 2005, 2006 and 2007 due to work-related stress, Dr Corcoran arranged for her to be "stalked" by an investigator when he knew, or should have known, she was very vulnerable to some form of breakdown.

He said he did not believe the actions of Dr Corcoran amounted to "wilful and conscious" wrongdoing and would not award exemplary damages.

However, because the actions involved oppressive conduct by Dr Corcoran, he was including €5,000 aggravated damages in the total award of €75,000. The judge also awarded her €13,000 special damages.

Irish Independent

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