Monday 18 December 2017

Teacher faces massive legal bill after losing bullying case

Tim Healy

Mary O'Toole, of Tullamore, Co Offaly, leaves the High Court with her husband Eamonn yesterday. Collins CourtsJim Mooney: did not appear in court yesterday

A TEACHER who lost a sexual harassment and bullying case against a male colleague is facing a massive legal bill after the High Court awarded costs against her.

In a case lasting several weeks, Mary O'Toole sued Co Offaly Vocational Educational Committee claiming she was the victim of "a campaign" of bullying and harassment by Jim Mooney, a fellow teacher at Tullamore College.

The VEC, and Mr Mooney, denied her claims.

Last month, Mr Justice Iarfhlaith O'Neill found there was no sexual harassment or bullying on Mr Mooney's part directed against Mrs O'Toole. Mrs O'Toole's evidence to that effect was "not credible", he said.

Yesterday, the judge awarded the VEC its costs which are estimated to run well into six figures.

The judge also told the court he had received a letter from Mrs O'Toole's husband, Eamonn, which he had not read because such correspondence was "not appropriate".

Counsel for Mrs O'Toole, John Peart, said he knew nothing about the letter and agreed it should not have been sent.

While the contents of the correspondence were not disclosed in open court, after reading the letter, counsel said that both sides "were in agreement" that it was "of no assistance to the court".

Mr Peart also argued costs should not be awarded against his client as Mrs O'Toole was "passionate about her case" and was "bitterly disappointed" with the outcome.

Russell Houston, legal representative for the VEC, said there was no exceptional reason why the VEC should not be awarded the costs of the action.

It was a case, he argued, where costs should follow the event.

In awarding costs against Mrs O'Toole (48), a married mother-of-one from Whitehall Estate, Tullamore, the judge said she had made a series of "very serious" allegations against a colleague and officers of the VEC, which the court had dismissed.

In light of that, he could see "no exceptional circumstances" why the court should depart from the general practice and awarded costs against her. The judge agreed to place a stay on the order for 21 days in the event that an appeal is lodged.

In her action Mrs O'Toole claimed she was sexually harassed and intimidated while a teacher at Tullamore College.

She also claimed she was bullied by senior staff employed with the VEC and that the VEC had not properly investigated her claims against Mr Mooney.

She left Tullamore College in 2001 and transferred to another school.

In his judgment, Mr Justice O'Neill held Mrs O'Toole had romantically pursued Mr Mooney who, on each occasion, rejected her advances.

Prior to November 1998, shortly after Mr Mooney "unequivocally rejected" Mrs O'Toole, she made no complaint about him to the VEC, the judge noted.

The judge also accepted Mr Mooney's evidence he never engaged in any behaviour towards Mrs O'Toole "which had any kind of sexual connotation or suggestion".

Irish Independent

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