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LEGAL UPDATE: Recent case law on unfair dismissal

The Supreme Court has unanimously dismissed an appeal brought by a head teacher who was sacked after she failed to disclose her friendship with a convicted sex offender to a local authority.

In Reilly v Sandwell Metropolitan Borough Council [2018] UKSC 16 Ms Reilly was the former head teacher of a primary school which was, at the relevant time, maintained by Sandwell.

Approximately ten years before she became the head teacher of the school, she met a man, Mr Selwood, who became her close friend. They were not, however, in a sexual or romantic relationship. Although Ms Reilly was aware of Mr Selwood’s conviction, she decided not to disclose it to the governing body of the school. 

In June 2010 Sandwell learnt of Mr Selwood’s conviction, and of Ms Reilly’s friendship with him. It suspended Ms Reilly and subsequently summoned her to a disciplinary hearing in May 2011. At that hearing, the panel upheld the allegation that, by having failed to disclose her relationship with a man convicted of sexual offences towards children, Ms Reilly had committed a serious breach of an implied term of her contract of employment which amounted to gross misconduct. Ms Reilly was, as a result, summarily dismissed.

She subsequently brought proceedings for unfair dismissal and sex discrimination in the Employment Tribunal, maintaining that she had been under no obligation to disclose the information. The Tribunal held that, save for an irrelevant procedural element, the decision to dismiss her had not been unfair. Her sex discrimination claim was also dismissed.

Ms Reilly thereafter appealed to both the Employment Appeal Tribunal and the Court of Appeal on the unfair dismissal point but was unsuccessful on both occasions. The Supreme Court unanimously dismissed the appeal. 

The Supreme Court judge added that in this case, Ms Reilly was under a contractual obligation to assist the governing body in discharging its duty to safeguard the pupils. The judge noted that as head teacher, Ms Reilly was likely to know important information about her pupils, including their whereabouts, their routine and their circumstances at home. She was also likely to be able to authorise visitors freely to enter the school premises.

Mr Selwood’s relationship with Ms Reilly therefore created a potential risk to the children at the school. This risk required the assessment of the governors; it was not for Ms Reilly to conduct that assessment.

The Supreme Court judge said that in his opinion the tribunal was entitled to conclude that it was a reasonable response for the panel to have concluded that Ms Reilly’s non-disclosure merited her dismissal. For her refusal to accept that she had been in breach of duty suggested a continuing lack of insight which, as it was reasonable to conclude, rendered it inappropriate for her to continue to run the school.

If you need help and advice in relation to unfair dismissal, please do not hesitate to contact me or the employment team on 0113 350 4030 or at hello@scesolicitors.co.uk.

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SCE Solicitors is a boutique employment law and dispute resolution practice based in Leeds which advises clients nationwide.  Please note that the information in this blog is to provide information of general interest in a summary manner and should not be construed as individual legal advice. Readers should consult with SCE Solicitors or other professional counsel before acting on the information contained here.

Richard Newstead
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Richard Newstead

Richard qualified as a Legal Executive over 20 years ago and has significant experience in Employment law and Litigation. Richard acts for both employers and employees drafting and advising on settlement agreements, contracts of employment, consultancy agreements, directors service agreements and general workplace policies. He acts for commercial clients in the employment tribunal dealing with unfair dismissals, constructive dismissals and claims for discrimination.

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