A teacher has won over £100k and lost much of it in an employment tribunal claim and held onto it on appeal.

After several years of unimpeachable service and good results, a new manager, that she described as vindictive, came along and took a dislike to her. The manager said that the teacher’s teaching was poor, when there was no evidence for this.

She resigned, agreeing terms, which included a payoff and a good reference.

But the head-teacher only gave a basic reference, which the teacher said was discriminatory.

She claimed unfair constructive dismissal and age discrimination, on the grounds that the allegations were trumped-up because she was expensive (being more experienced than younger colleagues).

Faced with a £108,000 payout, the employer appealed on a number of grounds, including that the employment tribunal was wrong to give her the benefit of the doubt in her claim that the academy had a practice of selecting the most expensive teachers to dismiss. Having such a practice would be indirectly discriminatory on the ground of age.

There are employment tribunal rules that give the benefit of the doubt to employees bringing discrimination claims, because employers who discriminate will never confess to it and rarely keep records of wrongdoing.

She lost out on the discrimination claim because the tribunal made a mistake of law – it gave her the benefit of the doubt on the question of whether the academy had adopted a practice of getting rid of the most experienced teachers. The employment appeal tribunal said that this was something that an employee needs to prove. Once she does this, then the tribunal will presume (unless the employer can show otherwise) that the decision was taken on the ground of age.

She held onto victory, though only for unfair discrimination, which carries a cap of a year’s salary, which for her would be between £40k and £50k plus a ‘basic award’ based on her length of service. We estimate that her compensation would have been slashed by at least a quarter because of this decision.

This case goes to show that the laws on discrimination are complicated and that even tribunals can get the details wrong.

Case report:  Dippenaar v Bethnal Green Academy.