Disabled claim victory

June 11, 1999

Two disabled vice-principals dismissed from Stratford-upon-Avon College have won an out-of-court payment, six months after Whistleblowers exposed their treatment.

John Holland, who is registered blind, and Dermot Sheils, who is disabled after a series of serious operations, were made redundant when college managers decided to rationalise four vice-principalships into two. The two disabled men were chosen for redundancy without holding a selection procedure, interviews, and the usual governing body committee procedures for senior post holders. They were asked to leave last July.

Both men were due to claim disability discrimination in an employment tribunal with the support of the Royal National Institute for the Blind, the Association of College Managers and the National Association of Schoolmasters and Union of Women Teachers, but the college has now paid them an undisclosed sum. Points the tribunal was to hear include: n College redundancy procedures were changed in the middle of the redundancy process. The principal conceded: "There was no working redundancy procedure for senior post holders."

* One of the able-bodied vice-principals who was not made redundant, David Jackson, was clerk to the governors, contrary to best practice advice which states that the clerk should be independent from management.

* A Further Education Funding Council inspection report published earlier this year said that "there are some dimensions of equal opportunity which are not effectively promoted and managed" at the college.

* The FEFC inspection report, while criticising the governors for breaching rules of governance and finance, commended the work of both disabled vice-principals, with top inspection grades for their curriculum areas, just weeks before they were made redundant.

* College rules of governance state that redundancy for senior postholders should go through three special committees. Mr Sheils and Mr Holland got just one committee, and its brief was changed during its procedures from considering the post to the individual.

* Christine Wood, a consultant who spent 12 months at the college as a personnel adviser - and who advised on redundancies - was appointed without interview to the college governing board at the beginning of the redundancy dispute in March 1998. Chair of governors Vince Seaman declared an interest at the meeting which notified her appointment, because he "knew her", but he went on to "wonder whether it was necessary to hold a formal interview with the full membership committee". The interview was waived and her appointment recommended. Ms Wood was later appointed to the special governors' committee that recommended the dismissals.

* The college was to argue that the two disabled men were chosen for redundancy instead of their able-bodied counterparts because they had significantly different responsibilities. Mr Shiels and Mr Holland were responsible for curriculum matters, where rationalisation was to occur, while the other two vice-principals had cross-college roles, which remained in the new structure. But Mr Shiels's and Mr Holland's representatives said this was based on out-of-date job descriptions, and all four candidates were capable of doing the merged jobs.

Principal Nigel Briggs refused to comment. His legal representatives said the terms of the settlement were subject to a confidentiality clause. But Mr Briggs was due to tell the tribunal: "I absolutely refute that the consideration for redundancy of either of these employees was related in any way to their disability".

The Association of College Managers said: "The governors have now paid substantial compensation in response to a claim of disability discrimination. This has been a long and difficult case. Questions still remain about whether justice has been served and about the costs to the taxpayer. Culpability remains in Stratford-upon-Avon College."

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