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Black teacher wins constructive dismissal claim after being given ‘humiliating’ feedback on her lessons

Makbool Javaid, Partner - Simons Muirhead & Burton

In the case of Mrs B Knight v Havant & South Downs College, Betty Knight, an English teacher, was accused of not doing enough to promote equality and diversity and was put on an improvement plan after being monitored for just 25 minutes at Havant and South Downs College in Hampshire.

She claimed she was ‘berated, humiliated and racially stereotyped’ by feedback from the assessment.

When she argued she was challenging racial stereotypes and providing a positive role model, she was harassed out of her job, an employment tribunal ruled.

Her assessor, a senior learning manager for teaching, sent an email to a colleague complaining Mrs Knight was ‘now throwing the E&D Black comment at me too’.

Mrs Knight, who is black British, launched a grievance case against the college after being put on an improvement plan and resigned after seeing the email.

Mrs Knight told an employment tribunal the email between her assessors ‘insinuated’ she was ‘playing the race card’ after being criticised for not ‘promoting’ equality and diversity in her lessons.

She said she had found the remark to be ‘quite offensive, very unprofessional and evidence of victimisation and discrimination.’

The panel agreed that putting a teacher on a performance improvement programme was entirely acceptable to maintain standards. However, Havant and South Downs College had not followed their own guidelines, as teachers are supposed to be assessed for at least 30 minutes.

The tribunal ruled that the email constituted ‘unwanted conduct related to race’ which ‘violated’ Ms Knight’s dignity and created an ‘intimidating, hostile and offensive’ working environment.

In the ruling Employment Judge James Dawson said: ‘We find [the email] was an act of harassment.

‘Whilst it was one of a number of reasons for her resignation it materially influenced Ms Knight in making her decision [to resign].

‘We find that the comments did have a significant influence on Ms Knight who, reasonably, felt that she was being accused of playing the race card.

‘In those circumstances we find that the constructive dismissal was itself an act of harassment.’

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