Kings Road Primary School Teacher Dismissed After She Raises Concerns About ‘Blackphobia’; ET Calls Dismissal Unfair

In the case of Ms A Mairs v Trafford Council and The Governing Body of Kings Road Primary School, a teacher wins her claims for unfair dismissal, race discrimination and victimisation. This happened after the Kings Road Primary School teacher repeatedly raised concerns regarding microaggressions and cultural insensitivity.

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The Facts in Ms A Mairs v Trafford Council and The Governing Body of Kings Road Primary School

On 1 September 2001, Ms A. Mairs (the “Claimant”) began working as a teacher at Kings Road Primary School, overseen by the Governing Body of Kings Road Primary School (the 2nd Respondent) and Trafford Council (the 1st Respondent). The Claimant identified as Black.

A Growing List of Issues Since 2016

In April 2016, the Claimant applied for a promotion at the Kings Road Primary School for the fourth time and was unsuccessful. This marked the beginning of a series of issues.

Between 2016 and 2017, the Claimant felt that a teaching assistant, Mrs Gallon, was not supporting her as she did her white colleagues. Mrs Gallon had previously expressed discomfort about attending a racially mixed family wedding, leading the Claimant to believe Mrs Gallon was uncomfortable with her race.

The Claimant raised a grievance alleging race discrimination, while Mrs Gallon countered with a grievance claiming she was being bullied. Neither grievance was upheld, but diversity training was recommended.

Additionally, the Claimant was promoted to middle manager but believed she had not received the TLR (Teaching and Learning Responsibility) pay uplift. She later discovered that a white colleague had received this increase.

Kings Road Primary School Teacher Cites Cases of Microaggressions at Work

The Claimant also reported experiencing microaggressions. For instance, during Black History Month, despite the school having a history coordinator supported by a Black teaching assistant, the Claimant was asked to work on Black History Month activities.

Additionally, she was tasked with handling a situation involving a Black parent who had alleged racism. The Claimant perceived these assignments as microaggressions but did not object and completed the tasks required.

Complaints by The Kings Road Primary School Teacher Lead to Grievance Against Her

On 1 July 2019, the Senior Leadership Team (SLT) submitted a grievance against the Claimant, citing difficulties in working with her following several incidents:

  1. Punishment Concerns: The Claimant objected to children standing outside in the cold as punishment, believing it was more harmful to Black children.
  2. Diversity Training: She raised concerns about the lack of diversity training after the Gallon incident.
  3. Cultural Insensitivity: She found a video linking an African family with poverty culturally insensitive and stereotyping.

In February 2019, a magician referred to Black children as “cheeky monkeys,” which the Claimant found racially offensive. The Head Teacher subsequently banned such terms.

The SLT grievance cited fears of racism complaints, negative effects of working with the Claimant, and a sense of intimidation. They sought a positive resolution or her seeking alternative employment. The Claimant, shocked and disappointed, commenced sick leave.

Counter Grievance by Claimant

On 17 October 2019, the Claimant lodged a grievance detailing incidents of racism and later added “Blackophobia” due to the SLT’s avoidance of the term “Black.” On 21 November 2019, the SLT accused her grievance of being retaliatory, harassing, and slanderous.

Mr Hanif, the investigating officer, concluded in August 2020 that while the SLT could have handled matters better, there was a breakdown of trust. Regarding the Kings Road Primary School teacher’s grievance, he deemed it malicious, aiming to deflect SLT’s issues. Recommendations included diversity training, policy reviews, relationship investigations, and mediation.

The Claimant appealed on 25 September 2020, but it was rejected. She was advised to pursue mediation. In November 2020, after a year of sick leave, she had a phased return to work.

Claimant Returns But is Subsequently Suspended and Dismissed

Between 11-12 November 2020, shortly after her return, the Claimant was suspended due to concerns from the SLT about her return, citing an irretrievable breakdown in their working relationship. Despite suggesting alternatives like working from home, she received no response.

On 13 April 2021, during an investigation, she agreed to mediation with individual SLT members. The investigator concluded on 21 April 2021 that she was unmanageable, affecting the Head Teacher’s mental health, and recommended considering dismissal.

Following a dismissal hearing on 28 January 2022, she was notified of her termination on 28 February 2022. She appealed on 17 March 2022, claiming discrimination and victimisation, but was dismissed again on 18 October 2022, prompting her to pursue an Employment Tribunal claim.

The Decision of the Employment Tribunal

The Employment Tribunal found in favour of the Claimant in her claims for unfair dismissal, race discrimination by victimisation because of her protected characteristic of race, the breach of her contract and unauthorised deduction from her wages for the notice period owed.

When considering the various claims, the Employment Tribunal found that:

  1. The Claimant argued unfair dismissal, asserting the 2nd Respondent failed to conduct a meaningful appeal and consider alternatives, while the 1st Respondent neglected to explore mediation or the breakdown of the relationship. The tribunal found the Claimant’s conduct contributed to her dismissal by bypassing colleagues and writing directly to the Head Teacher, reducing her unfair dismissal Basic Award by 33%.
  2. The Kings Road Primary School teacher’s actions, including her counter-grievance and letter addressing “Blackophobia,” constituted protected acts under the Equality Act 2010. Victimisation occurred when she was treated unfavourably for asserting her legal rights.
  3. The tribunal ruled the Claimant’s notice period should have begun on 1 March 2022, not when the dismissal letter was issued. This breach of contract led to an unlawful deduction in wages, violating the Employment Rights Act 1996. Her entitlement to 12 weeks’ notice was not honoured, affecting her contractual conditions and rights under the Burgundy Book.

Our Lawyers View

Our lawyer Steve Norton says, “Failure to implement the recommendations in this case, address the concerns of the Claimant, and allow more time to resolve a fraught employment relationship with work colleagues was fatal to the Respondent’s case and resulted in an unfair dismissal ruling.

Arguably, as the tribunal hinted out in their summing up, if the Respondent had followed a rigorous and fair process, the dismissal may well have been found to be fair based on the unreasonable behaviour of the Claimant in her dealing with work colleagues and senior staff.