Teacher wins damages after sexual assault at work – head criticised her for wearing a dress, Court told

Janet Downs's picture

A teacher, known as Ms C, was awarded damages of £52,493 in September for indirect sex discrimination and unfair dismissal after she was sexually assaulted by a 17 year-old boy at the school where she worked.  

The incident happened on 16 June 2016 at the Warren School, a community special school in Lowestoft for pupils aged 3 to 19 with severe learning difficulties.  It was judged good in September 2012. 

Ms C returned to school the day after the assault, a Friday, but left in the afternoon to go home.  The following Monday she attended a course but was upset when a male colleague who was driving her ‘made an inappropriate comment’.

A long period of absence followed and Ms C resigned in December 2016.  The Judge ruled Ms C had been ‘constructively dismissed’ because her employer had not maintained ‘mutual trust and confidence’.

The Judge also ruled that Ms C was a victim of indirect discrimination because she had been required to work with a boy known for his ‘sexualised behaviour’

Ms C, who had been diagnosed with epilepsy in September 2015, experienced both physical and emotional health problems after the attack.  These worsened after a ‘return to work interview’.  School management had not recognised the incident as assault and a member of staff had said Ms C had ‘brought it on herself’. 

The return to work interview left Ms C ‘utterly devastated’.  In particular was a remark in the Incident Report by the head, Jan Bird, which criticised Ms C for wearing a dress.  This appears a classic case of victim blaming – implying the victim was at fault because of the clothes she wore.

The incident and the unsympathetic way Ms C was treated affected her family and social life.  She told the Judge how her relationships had deteriorated, how she felt ‘enormous guilt’ and how, more than a year later, she was still unhappy.  She had ‘secretly felt suicidal’.

Suffolk Council told the Lowestoft Journal  that ‘The council has supported the school in reviewing process and procedure around risk assessments and best practice and will continue to do so.’  It shouldn't need a risk assessment and best practice policies for managers to know how to behave sensitively and appropriately towards someone whose been assaulted.  Sadly, this seems to be the case here or the Court would have dismissed Ms C's claim.

The Council appointed an Interim Executive Board in July 2107.  Warren School is now looking for a multi-academy trust to join.

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