Gay Head Teacher Awarded £700,000 Following Finding of Discrimination
A number of employment claims are subject to a cap on compensation but this is not the case with claims for discrimination under the Equality Act. There is no cap on awards where there has been discrimination and the impact of this was recently seen in a case involving a head teacher (Mr Matthew Aplin) who brought a claim against his primary school employer. His employment was terminated after he had sex with two seventeen-year-old boys he met through the LGBT dating app, Grindr. The police and the local authority’s social services department became involved and Mr Aplin was suspended from his duties pending an investigation. It was found that no criminal offence had been committed and there were no safeguarding issues but the investigation continued with the recommendation by the authorities that the school consider disciplinary action. The investigation report was criticised at the original Employment Tribunal hearing as being judgemental and drawing hostile conclusions rather than being objective and an assessment of the factual position.
Mr Aplin had accusations levelled against him around bringing the school into disrepute and conduct incompatible with his role. He contended that he had not acted unlawfully and was entitled to a private life. The disciplinary panel terminated Mr Aplin’s employment by suggesting that his actions brought into question his judgement and undermined the necessary trust and confidence in him.
Mr Aplin’s claim was heard by the Employment Tribunal in Cardiff who found that he had been unfairly dismissed and discriminated against as a result of his sexual orientation. The Employment Tribunal ordered the governing body of his primary school to pay him more than £690,000. It is usual for governing bodies to have an indemnity in respect of awards such as this. Mr Aplin was found to be a career educator who was ambitious and effective. The Employment Tribunal found that he would have been treated differently if he was heterosexual. The governors had had the local authorities whispering in their ears and had not come to an independently reasoned decision.
Mr Aplin found it difficult to obtain new employment (as one would expect) and had a series of temporary contracts. It was felt that he would eventually return to a head teacher role, but this would take some time, a considerable period of time by having regard to the size of the award.
As well as highlighting the size of awards which can be made in discrimination cases in the Employment Tribunal, this case also shows the importance of a reasonable investigation which is then dealt with by a properly-constituted independent disciplinary panel.