Case Review: Teaching Assistant Wins School Unfair Dismissal Claim

A teaching assistant from Cannock has been awarded more than £16,000 in compensation after winning her school unfair dismissal case against Bridgtown Primary.

Paula Williams, 45, was wrongly dismissed after claims that she swore in front of pupils, used inappropriate language and also posted “inappropriate Facebook photos”.

The school head teacher, Joanna Raybould, told the Employment Tribunal that teaching assistant Ms Williams had been sacked for allegedly using the “f” word in front of children in the playground. She had also posted “inappropriate images” on the social networking site Facebook. The Employment Tribunal hearing was told that an anonymous letter had been sent to the school containing a number of allegations and the school’s governing body decided to sack Ms Williams on the head teacher’s recommendation.

The head teacher Mrs Raybould commented in a statement to the Tribunal that the situation had impacted on “the whole atmosphere at the school”.

However, the Claimant accused the head teacher and the governing body of failing to initially approach her about the allegations and she denied both the swearing in the playground or responsibility for the Facebook images.

The Chairman of the Employment Tribunal commented that the school had not provided Ms Williams with sufficient guidelines on the appropriate use of language in a school environment and also that the school had neglected to verify the statement from an alleged witness to the swearing incident.

With regard to the Facebook photographs, the Tribunal found that no ICT policy had been breached as the photographs related to a fancy dress costume worn by Ms Williams at a school Christmas party, and were not uploaded by her.

In conclusion, the Employment Tribunal found that both the primary school and Staffordshire County Council had unfairly dismissed Ms Williams and had also failed to fully investigate the allegations made against her. Although Ms Williams was awarded a total of over £16,000, the Employment Tribunal also stated that it would be inappropriate to reinstate Ms Williams, as during the course of the hearing, she had also admitted that she had been “at fault”.