Jewish teacher wins discrimination claim – sacked for ‘living in sin’

A nursery school teacher, Ms De Groen has won her claim for sexual and religious discrimination against an Orthodox Jewish nursery where she was dismissed for living with her boyfriend.

Growing up in an ultra-Orthodox Jewish household, Ms De Groen felt discontented with her community, and at the age of 16 moved to Israel.

When she returned to the UK three years later she chose not to follow the ultra-Orthodox way of life, even though she considered herself a practicing Jew.

Ms De Groen was employed by private nursery Gan Menachem as a nursery teacher in 2012. She was later promoted to team leader.

It was only after a barbeque in May 2016 when some parents discovered that Ms De Groen was cohabiting with her boyfriend. The couple insist that they had never hidden the fact that they had live together.

Managing Director of the nursery Mrs Toron, and Nursery Manager Mrs Lieberman called a meeting after receiving complaints from ‘four or five’ parents. One parent even threatened to withdraw their child from the nursery if the problem as not addressed to their satisfaction.

After hearing the case, the tribunal ruling said that ‘the claimant was distraught during and after the meeting, and reasonably so’. Ms De Groen felt as if she was being investigated about her private life and made to believe that she was behaving badly and foolishly. Ms De Groen likened this ordeal to being back at school or when she used to be questioned by her ultra-Orthodox mother.

The tribunal noted that the way in which the respondent treated Ms De Groen after the meeting was equally offensive as well as hurtful to her. This only continued her humiliation and degradation.

The fact that Ms De Groen had been cohabiting with her boyfriend had been turned into a disciplinary issue, with the claimant being accused of lying and misleading, neither of which was the truth.

The judge said that while the managers’ intentions were to dispense wisdom (with a small amount of sympathy) what they had done was try to impress on the claimant their own system of beliefs. Should they have addressed a man in this way, both managers agreed that he would have walked away at the start of the meeting.

Ms De Groen met two days later with the managers to request an apology, which was refused. Instead, she was sent a letter commencing disciplinary proceedings against her.

The judge felt that the letter was ‘somewhat confused’, claiming specifically that Ms De Groen had acted in contravention of the nursery’s ethos and religious beliefs. Not only had she damaged the reputation of the nursery but some parents were considering withdrawing their children, thus causing loss of income.

Ms De Groen was invited to attend a disciplinary hearing, although was unable to do so because she was under a great amount of stress and became ill. Her dismissal followed a hearing by a ‘disciplinary panel’ in her absence.

The managers were criticised by the judge for suggesting that Ms De Groen lies about living with her boyfriend.

Ms De Groen was successful in claiming direct and indirect religious discrimination, as well as direct sexual discrimination and harassment.

The tribunal found that the nursery managers had acted rather like an overbearing mother and sister, and the effect of their treatment was not to improve the situation but rather to humiliate and degrade Ms De Groen.

A remedy hearing is scheduled to take place at a later date where compensation will be addressed.


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