Inner house concludes school fairly dismissed teacher suspected of possessing indecent images.
Despite being cleared of the charges, the teacher was dismissed due to safeguarding concerns. Was his dismissal unfair?
No, concluded the Inner House of the Court of Session in L v K.
The case concerned a teacher who had been arrested for possession of a computer containing indecent images of children.
The teacher shared the computer with his son but ultimately the charges against the two were dropped.
The teacher informed his employer – the school, as to what had happened which led to an investigation.
At an investigatory hearing, the teacher stated he did not recall where he had bought the computer. He also said that his son had access to the device and that the police had told him it contained illegal material.
Following the hearing, disciplinary proceedings were initiated by the school.
The primary reason for the teacher’s dismissal was that while it couldn’t be proved the teacher had downloaded the images onto his PC, the fact alone that he may have done it gave risk to a safeguarding concern.
Moreover, the school was also concerned that the situation would affect their reputation. Breakdown of trust was also cited.
The dismissed teacher appeals the decision
Following the dismissal, the teacher made a claim of unfair dismissal in the Employment Tribunal (ET).
The ET, however, was satisfied that the reason given for the respondent’s dismissal was in fact genuine and substantial. It said that the school’s decision, while difficult, was responsible.
The teacher was not content with this outcome and appealed the ET’s decision.
The 5 grounds came to the view; that he could only be fairly dismissed by the school if the evidence indicated and the school was satisfied that he was responsible for downloading the images.
A decision of unfair dismissal was subsequently substituted for the original verdict of the ET.
On appeal of this decision to the Court of Session, it was submitted for the school that the Employment Appeals Tribunal (EAT) had in fact erred in its approach to the appeal.
One of the arguments against the teacher’s stance included a denial that there were any indecent images on his computer. This was a position inconsistent with his earlier statements and therefore rejected by the ET.
Furthermore, the EAT had not engaged with the issue of the school’s statutory duty to protect children which was an imperative part of the school’s decision to dismiss the teacher.
The Final Decision
The Court of Session concluded that in some circumstances it will be reasonable for an employer to dismiss an employee who may be innocent if there is a genuine and substantial reason to justify the dismissal. This was in fact such case.
Lord Malcolm, who delivered the court’s decision, said there was a proper basis for believing that the teacher was probably guilty.