Mitchell v St Joseph’s School

An act of misconduct was not mitigated by disclosure of its effect to a board of governors, the Employment Appeal Tribunal has found. Applying company law on attribution, the dismissal remained within the range of reasonable responses by an employer.

Mitchell, the claimant, was a school bursar at the Respondent school, St Joseph’s. He had extensive experience in the banking sector and had previously been a bank manager. When Mitchell took over, he was told that the school’s bank account was overdrawn. The state of the school’s finances of the school became parlous and in due course the School conducted an investigation.

The procedure resulted in Mitchell’s dismissal for gross negligence in relation to the school’s financial matters. It was accepted that Mitchell had reported details of the financial situation to the Chairmen of Governors, but had failed to report to the Governing Board which resulted in the Board being unaware of the financial cost of planning permission of a significant expansion programme for the development of a sixth form.

The Tribunal found dismissal to be in the range of reasonable responses and therefore to be fair.

Mitchell appealed on the basis that he had informed two Chairmen of the School’s financial situation. He contended that the controlling mind of the Board therefore knew of what he was telling the two Chairmen and so the Board as a whole did too. Therefore, any criticism aimed at Mitchell for not keeping the Board informed was mitigated by him having told the Chairmen.

The School responded simply by saying that the breach was a matter of contract – that Mitchell was required by his contract to report to the Board and he had not done so.

Relying on the rules of attribution relating to company law, the Tribunal confirmed that the dismissal had been fair. Reporting to two Chairman of the Board did not constitute Mitchell’s personal responsibility to report to the Governors, plainly set out in the contract of employment.

For further clarification of this or any other matter relating to employment law in schools or other education establishments, clients should call the specialist Education Team on 0844 892 2810.