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‘We won’t be here forever’ means worker wins her ageism claim

After her head teacher commented that ‘We’re not all going to be here forever’ a 71 year-old primary school teacher has won her age discrimination and unfair dismissal claim.

At the hearing the judge ruled that the comment was inherently ageist. He went on to say that it was a clear reference to the claimant having passed the age of retirement and therefore, in the headteacher’s opinion, unlikely to work much longer.

Mrs Ware, employed at the Horsenden Primary School in the London Borough of Ealing since 2013 had three part-time positions, namely pool plant operator, swimming school coordinator, and attendance/medical officer. On considering the three roles together, she was employed almost 

full-time.

Mrs Ware claimed that in October 2022, there was a move, spearheaded by head teacher Ms Appleby, to remove her from her role. This was because of her age and the assumed closeness of her retirement.

Ealing council and the schools governing body maintained that Mrs Ware was dismissed for another substantial reason, which was a restructure. They denied any discriminatory conduct and also argued that some aspects of the discrimination claim were out of time.

In November 2021 a meeting was held where Ms Appleby told Mrs Ware that she was thinking of combining the attendance/medical role with that of the welfare officer, who was due to retire in the near future.

Mrs Ware thought at first that Ms Appleby was suggesting she take over that full-time role, until the head teacher indicated that Mrs Ware would be giving up the attendance/medical position and focusing on the swimming school.

On realising this, Mrs Ware raised her concerns including that her swimming role was at best, only 30 hours per month. She would be receiving a significant drop in her income. Mrs Ware made it clear that she was willing to discuss a new contract for the swimming school. 

The tribunal was told that Ms Appleby said that the claimant ‘We’re not all going to be here forever.’ They found Mrs Ware’s evidence to be credible after they had referred to the comment in quotation marks in an email which was sent shortly after the meeting.

They decided that Ms Appleby’s evidence that the comment was not made was not credible. She did not respond to the allegation which Mrs Ware made. 

The tribunal agreed that they would not accept Ms Appleby’s explanation, in that she felt that the email was for information only and did not respond to it. She would clearly have appreciated the risk of discrimination allegation, and the significance of the comment.

Under the circumstances the tribunal ruled that had she not made the comment, they would have expected her to respond in her email denying it. She neither responded nor denied having made the comment.

Mrs Ware’s email made it very clear that she had no intention of retiring, and that was the reason for her raising concerns about the merger of the roles.

The following week there was an incident with the high chlorine levels in the pool, and which had led the pool to close, for which Mrs Appleby believed the claimant to be responsible.

At a meeting in January 2022, they met and Ms Appleby informed Mrs Ware that there would be a disciplinary meeting which could amount to her dismissal.

Because the notes from the meeting were not shared with her, Mrs Ware assumed that nothing further was going to happen.

Soon after this Ms Appleby presented her report to the school governors, suggesting that the roles be merged. She suggested two new positions which would be full time and had no suggestion that Mrs Ware would be prioritised for either role.

A meeting was arranged with Mrs Ware on 2nd February 2022 where she learned that the governors had voted to approve the plan to delete her role. She was told that she would be able to reapply and both roles would be advertised externally.

The tribunal rejected that there were other alternatives offered to Mrs Ware as she had not seen any job descriptions. They felt that in their view this was a clear example of a claimant being treated unfairly. 

Mrs Ware told the tribunal that she had been sent home on ‘garden leave’ pending the receipt of job descriptions and her decision on how to proceed.

She remained at home from February to May 2022, during which time she emailed regarding errors in her payslips. She also asked for information about likely redundancy pay, should she choose that option.

On May 5th Mrs Ware received an email from the school with an ultimatum that either she accept the redundancy figure offered or she return to school on May 9th.

The tribunal felt that this put extreme pressure on Mrs Ware and reluctantly she accepted the redundancy offer. Her last day of employment was 31st May 2022.

The tribunal ruled that Mrs Ware was unfairly dismissed, both substantively and procedurally.

They also commented that Ms Appleby had not engaged in meaningful consultations with the claimant.

A remedy hearing will be scheduled for a later date.

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