O'Toole -v- County Offaly VEC, [2011] IEHC 141 (2011)

Docket Number:2007 1899 p
Party Name:O'Toole, County Offaly VEC
Judge:O''Neill J.

THE HIGH COURT2007 1899 PBETWEENMARY O’TOOLEPLAINTIFFANDCOUNTY OFFALY VOCATIONAL EDUCATIONAL COMMITTEEDEFENDANTS JUDGMENT of O’Neill delivered on the 15th day of April, 2011 1. The plaintiff in these proceedings is a Secondary School teacher, employed by the defendants, since 1984, initially, in Edenderry Vocational School and then in Tullamore College, and since 2001, in Ferbane Vocational School. The plaintiff was born in 1962, and is married with one child. Her husband is also a teacher employed by the defendants.2. The plaintiff sues the defendants in these proceedings for damages for injury to her mental and physical health, which, she alleges, has been caused by the defendants, its servants or agents, in the intentional or reckless infliction of emotional suffering on the plaintiff by harassment, sexual harassment, intimidation and abuse by the defendants, its servants or agents. The plaintiff’s case against the defendants centres around her allegations of sexual harassment of her by another teacher, Mr. Jim Mooney, the defendants, servant or agent. She claims that the defendants failed to provide her with a safe place or system of work, free of sexual harassment, abuse and bullying. She further alleges that the defendants were in breach of s. 1 and s. 23 of the Employment Equality Act 1993, and its own code of practices on sexual harassment, or in dealing with discrimination or, in particular, sexual discrimination, harassment and bullying in the workplace, and that the defendants failed to properly, or at all , investigate the plaintiff’s complaints of sexual harassment and bullying by Mr. Mooney. The plaintiff also makes the case that the defendants improperly or unjustly caused or allowed or permitted the plaintiff to be implicated as a perpetrator of an arson attack on Tullamore College, in or about June 2001. The plaintiff also alleges that the defendants failed to adhere to custom and practice in Tullamore College, whereby when a teacher took on a position of ‘Acting Year Head, a grade promotion would follow, as a consequence of which, the plaintiff claims she was denied a promotion to which she was entitled.3. The plaintiff’s complaint of sexual harassment against Mr. Mooney commenced at a Christmas party in Kinnitty Castle, for the staff of Tullamore College. She says that when she went to the bar to purchase drinks, Mr. Mooney looked into her eyes, putting on a pout on his face, as if he was coming on to her. Much of her complaints of sexual harassment concern the term from January 1997 to Easter of that year. During that time, the plaintiff, as part of her duties, was obliged to distribute the register or roll to various teachers. This brought her into contact with Mr. Mooney during that period. On one occasion, she said he, “Slithered down the wall, he opened his legs, and he put on this really sexually suggestive face, like, I am, you know, I am interested, if you are”. She described this incident as making her feel like a piece of meat instead of a human being, and that she was very upset by it.4. She said on a few occasions, as she was walking home for lunch, Mr. Mooney, as he was going by in his car, would let the window down and he would say, “Mary, would you like a ride” and he would grin as he was saying this. To avoid these situations, the plaintiff says she would wait at the back door until she saw his car leave before walking home.5. The plaintiff said that in the Common Room, on a number of occasions, at this time, when she would go to the sink to make a cup of tea for herself, Mr. Mooney would come over and he would put his hand on her back and leave it there for a few minutes, and rub her back. She would look at him and he would say, “Sorry, Mary, I’m just getting a knife”. The plaintiff regarded this touching of her by Mr. Mooney as inappropriate.6. On the last day of this term, coming up to the Easter holidays, there occurred an incident which greatly disturbed the plaintiff and which she concluded was contrived by Mr. Mooney to, in effect, force contact on her and humiliate her. When she went to collect her paycheck, it was not in her pigeonhole. Her pigeonhole was immediately beside Mr. Mooney’s pigeonhole. She went to Mr. McEvoy, the School Principal, who confirmed that she had been paid and advised her to go back and check again. She did this, but there was no paycheck in her pigeonhole, and because of the way Mr. Mooney had been behaving toward her, she thought that it was possible that he might have interfered with her paycheck as a way of bullying her or making her feel small. She went down to Mr. Mooney’s classroom, went in and said, “Excuse me, Mr. Mooney, did you take my paycheck by mistake?” She approached the matter in this way because she did not want to accuse him. She described Mr. Mooney as acting in a very cool, casual manner towards her. She described her paycheck, because she was still paid by cheque and not by an automated paypath system, as different in appearance to that of Mr. Mooney’s. In any event, Mr. Mooney started fumbling in his pocket and he brought out the plaintiff’s paycheck and envelope, which was torn at the top and rolled up. The plaintiff could clearly see her name written on the top of it. She regarded his behaviour at the time as unbelievable and cheeky and she said to him, “We need to talk”. She asked him to come outside the door and said to him, “Now listen to me . . . you took my paycheck”. She then said, “You’ve been putting your hands on me in the Staff Room and I want it to stop”. She said, “I am a married woman”. He responded by saying, “Listen, I won’t talk to you here, I’ll meet you after school. Will you meet me after school?” To which the plaintiff responded, “I have no intention of meeting you anyplace”. The plaintiff said that at that stage, he started to grin, and said, “Cool it, cool it, nothing happened” and with that, he walked back into the room and the plaintiff walked away. The plaintiff firmly believes that the taking of the paycheck by Mr. Mooney was not an honest mistake because of the obvious difference between the envelopes in which the respective paychecks came. The plaintiff was very bothered and upset by this incident and wanted to sort things out with Mr. Mooney. She wanted to tell him, “Look, Jim, you know, stop this. You are disrespecting me. I don’t like it. It’s making me feel bad. I am not sleeping at night; I am, you know, I’m starting to have to go on anti-anxiety medication”. The plaintiff felt that if she could have had two minutes of conversation with Mr. Mooney, that she would feel a lot better and they could draw a line under it.7. This led into the Easter holidays of 1997. After Easter, the plaintiff was still ‘Assistant Year Head’, which meant she was allowed to distribute the Registers or Rolls, which meant some contact between herself and Mr. Mooney. Although she had told him in the discussion after the paycheck incident not to put his hands on her again, on one occasion, as she was coming out of Room 6, he was coming against her, and he put his two hands on her shoulders and moved her out of his way. He did not say, “Excuse me, Mary” or anything like that. He simple moved her out of his way, in a way which she felt was disrespectful.8. At around this time of April or May 1997, the plaintiff attended her General Practitioner, Dr. Keane, whom she said put her on anti-anxiety medication. The plaintiff felt that before the summer holidays came, she needed to sort matters out with Mr. Mooney, so that when they came back in September 1997, they could resume normal relations as colleagues.9. On about 29th or 30th May, 1997, on a Sunday evening, coming up to the end of term, the plaintiff had an arrangement to meet a friend of hers for a drink that evening. Before going to meet her friend, the plaintiff decided to call to Mr. Mooney’s house, which was close to the plaintiff’s house, about five minutes walking distance away. She called at the door and it was answered by a man who informed the plaintiff that Mr. Mooney was out and that she could find him in any one of a number of pubs downtown. This was about 6.00pm in the evening.10. The plaintiff left and met her friend and had a few drinks with this friend and drove home. The plaintiff described herself as feeling, on the occasion, a little bit “squiffy”. She decided, on the way home, to call again to Mr. Mooney’s house. She parked her car at the gates of the house. She knocked on the door. The man who had been there earlier answered and informed her that Mr. Mooney was out the back playing pool, and he brought her through the house, and she encountered Mr. Mooney as he was coming out of the poolroom, which was a converted garage. The plaintiff said to Mr. Mooney, “Jim, I need to talk to you, I need to sort things out with you”. He responded by pulling her around to the side of the house, and he said to her, “Not in front of the lads”. The plaintiff says that when he pulled her around to the side of the house, he put his arms around her, and started to try to kiss her and hug her and caress her. The plaintiff said, no, and she pulled him around to the front of the house. At that stage, he said, “Not in front of the lads” and he bundled her into his car and drove her home. During the course of this short journey, there was no conversation at all. When the plaintiff got home, she realised that she did not have her car keys, that her husband needed the car the next day, so she walked back down to Mr. Mooney’s house. She could not find the keys. She went to the door of the house and knocked, and a man opened an upstairs window and said, “Jim Mooney is gone to bed, and if you don’t go home, I’m going to call the guards”. The plaintiff replied, saying, “Look, I can’t find my keys, could somebody just give a flashlamp”. The plaintiff says that at that stage, this other man was downstairs and he was on the telephone and he was calling the guards. The...

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