Teacher sacked for skipping staff meeting at independent prep school wins wrongful dismissal payout

Teacher sacked for skipping staff meeting at independent prep school wins wrongful dismissal payout 2
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A music teacher who was sacked for skipping a staff meeting at an independent prep school after finding out her mother had cancer has won a compensation fight over her wrongful dismissal.

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Jacqueline Darryl Dumigan was sacked from her post of 24 years at The Mount School in Edgerton, Huddersfield, West Yorkshire, in December last year after failing to attend a ‘non-optional’ staff meeting.

The piano and singing teacher had emailed the owner of the £9,000-a-year school explaining that she couldn’t make the meeting due to family commitments.

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She was gathering with her siblings to discuss treatment and care for her 90-year-old mother who had recently been diagnosed with cancer.

However, Ms Dumigan, known to friends and family by her middle name Darryl, did not tell school director and owner Christopher Sellers the ‘importance of her family gathering’.

Mr Sellers, who an employment tribunal heard already regarded Ms Dumigan as a ‘difficult’ staff member, emailed her back telling her ‘resignation accepted’.

She subsequently sued The Mount School and an employment judge heard Mr Sellers argue she had been guilty of ‘gross misconduct’ for missing the meeting.

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Jacqueline Darryl Dumigan (above) was sacked from her post of 24 years at The Mount School in Edgerton, Huddersfield, West Yorkshire, in December last year after failing to attend a 'non-optional' staff meeting

Jacqueline Darryl Dumigan (above) was sacked from her post of 24 years at The Mount School in Edgerton, Huddersfield, West Yorkshire, in December last year after failing to attend a ‘non-optional’ staff meeting

The piano and singing teacher had emailed the owner of the £9,000-a-year school (pictured) explaining that she couldn¿t make the meeting due to family commitments

The piano and singing teacher had emailed the owner of the £9,000-a-year school (pictured) explaining that she couldn’t make the meeting due to family commitments

But Employment Judge Jaleen, sitting in Leeds, has now upheld the music teacher’s damages claim for unfair and wrongful dismissal commenting that ‘no reasonable employer would have dismissed Ms Dumigan’.

The tribunal heard that Ms Dumigan worked part-time, teaching singing and piano on Tuesdays and Wednesdays to four to 11-year-olds, at the 91-pupil preparatory school which Mr Sellers and his wife, Natalie, took over in 2017.

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Friction had developed between Mr Sellers and Ms Dumigan at the school partly due to her boss wishing her to become self-employed ‘given the time she has off and to allow her to manage her outside interests, which include a gin-making business’.

Ms Dumigan’s mini gin distillery, Jacqson Yorkshire Dry Gin, began in her daughter’s old bedroom at the family home in Netherton after Ms Dumigan was inspired to get mixing after attending a gin tasting with her son, Sam.

Soon afterwards she launched her brand, lovingly labelling and filling thousands of bottles, from her test-tube filled spare room.

In December 2021, an email was sent by Mr Sellers ordering all staff members to attend a meeting in the school on December 13 on a compulsory basis.

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‘Having read the email, the claimant told Mr Sellers that she was unable to attend the meeting as she was seeing her sister, who was travelling from a distance, and other family members on the day,’ said the judge.

‘The family gathering was to discuss treatment and care for the claimant’s 90-year-old mother, who had been diagnosed with cancer recently. 

She was gathering with her siblings to discuss treatment and care for her 90-year-old mother who had recently been diagnosed with cancer

She was gathering with her siblings to discuss treatment and care for her 90-year-old mother who had recently been diagnosed with cancer

‘The gathering itself had been planned some time ago and the claimant was unable to rearrange this.’

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‘She did not advise Mr Sellers of the importance of her family gathering,’ he added.

‘Mr Sellers responded to this email and advised the claimant that the meeting was not optional and she was required to attend for one hour. 

‘The claimant reiterated that she was unable to attend. Mr Sellers again stated by email that the meeting was not optional.

‘On the following day 12 December 2021, the claimant again responded to Mr Sellers by email and told him that she was not free and was therefore unable to attend the meeting.

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‘Mr Sellers then sent an email stating “resignation accepted”. The claimant responded to this and clarified that she had not resigned.

‘However, she then received an email from Mr Sellers thanking her for “clearing up any avoidance of doubt”. 

‘He went on to inform her that the email was formal notice that her employment was to cease. 

‘The claimant was told that she would be paid until the February half-term and was not required to attend school any further.’

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However, Ms Dumigan, known to friends and family by her middle name Darryl, did not tell school director and owner Christopher Sellers the 'importance of her family gathering'

However, Ms Dumigan, known to friends and family by her middle name Darryl, did not tell school director and owner Christopher Sellers the ‘importance of her family gathering’

Mr Sellers, who an employment tribunal heard already regarded Ms Dumigan as a 'difficult' staff member, emailed her back telling her 'resignation accepted'

Mr Sellers, who an employment tribunal heard already regarded Ms Dumigan as a ‘difficult’ staff member, emailed her back telling her ‘resignation accepted’

The tribunal heard there was a troubled background between the school director and Ms Dumigan who he labelled ‘one of the most difficult members of staff I have worked with over four years’.

The pair had clashed over the music teacher’s working arrangements and Mr Sellers claimed she would have been slapped with written warnings long before had he ‘followed the book’.

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After a day-long hearing in Leeds, Employment Judge Jaleel ruled in her favour holding that Mr Sellers had produced no evidence to support his criticisms of Ms Dumigan who had an ‘exemplary employment record’.

The judge ruled that ‘no reasonable employer would have dismissed Ms Dumigan and her claim of unfair dismissal succeeds’.

He said: ‘Mr Sellers decided to dismiss the claimant following her refusal to attend a staff meeting,’ adding: ‘Dismissal was outside the range of reasonable responses.’

The employment judge found that the school boss was ‘intent on dismissing her’ and added: ‘In his own evidence Mr Sellers did not think that an investigation or hearing was necessary.

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‘He also stated that he did not confer or discuss the matter with anyone else as “I am the employer, the person that pays your wages, I’m top of the line manager” as well as stating “I had enough of playing games”.’

At the end of the hearing, the judge found that Ms Dumigan’s actions in missing the meeting were not gross misconduct and ordered that compensation for her dismissal should be assessed at a later date.

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