Thursday 18 January 2018

'Little bitch' complaint mishandled, says teacher at fee-paying south Dublin school

(Stock Image)
(Stock Image)

Tim Healy

MEDIATION efforts in an action over how a private fee-paying school in south Dublin dealt with a complaint alleging a teacher called a male student a “little bitch” have failed, the High Court heard.

The mediation attempt was made in recent months in the dispute between Pierce Dillon and the Catholic University School, Mr Justice Michael Twomey was told when the case, which opened last June, resumed in the court on Wednesday.

The teenage student claimed that after he was late, on May 8, 2014, for Mr Dillon's class due to talking to another teacher, Mr Dillon told him he was continually disrupting the class, always moaning and was a “little bitch”.

The student also claimed, after telling Mr Dillon the following day he could not attend class due to a school sports’ commitment, he was told he would be kicked out of class for three weeks.

The boy alleged he told Mr Dillon he was not allowed call him a “little bitch” and Mr Dillon had denied doing so.

Mr Dillon (55), who denies using the words complained of, is challenging the formal procedure adopted by the school in dealing with a complaint by the boy's parents over events on May 8/9, 2014.

A February 2015 finding against him of "inappropriate behaviour and language" was unjustified and unfair, he claims.

As a result of that finding, Mr Dillon received a final written warning in April 2015 under a disciplinary procedure.

Mr Dillon was told this was a Marist Catholic school known for the kindness and humanity with which it treats pupils, his behaviour fell short of its expectations and the final warning would be active for 12 months after which, subject to his satisfactory performance, it would expire. It has done so.

Mr Dillon's case centres on claims the school applied the incorrect procedure for dealing with the complaint.

He claims the handling of the complaint was unfair, breached his rights and the school’s own procedures, and has caused him hurt and distress after 34 years service as a teacher.

Mark Connaughton SC, for Mr Dillon, said a formal complaint was made in June 2014 after the student’s parents were unhappy with an informal process.

Even before the school moved to a formal disciplinary procedure, Mr Dillon raised concerns about how the matter was being dealt with, counsel said.

This matter was dealt with under a 2009 revised disciplinary procedure and the finding of inappropriate behaviour did not flow from what was initially put to Mr Dillon, it was argued.

The school allowed no appeal and engaged in a “legal nonsense” in declaring the complaints procedure trumped the disciplinary procedure,  Mr Connaughton said.

The school, represented by Feichin McDonagh SC, maintains it implemented the appropriate procedure and Mr Dillon was treated fairly. 

The complaint was dealt with in accordance with the Complaints Procedure for Voluntary Secondary Schools, agreed nationally with Mr Dillon's trade union, the Association of Secondary Teachers of Ireland, it says. 

When efforts to have the complaint resolved to the satisfaction of all the parties failed, Mr Dillon and his representative were invited to attend a meeting but declined to do so, the school claims.

The student's parents did attend, outlined their complaint and, after they left, the school board unanimously decided the complaint was substantiated.

In line with the complaints procedure, it was decided the matter should be addressed under the disciplinary procedure and a meeting was organised on March 27th 2015 when Mr Dillon was given the written warning, the school says.

While Mr Dillon had complained about the process, he made no complaints about the March 27 meeting until after he went to a solicitor, Mr McDonagh said.

The hearing is expected to conclude Thursday.

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