Lecturer wins payout over ‘distressing’ remarks after husband’s death

City College Plymouth appealing judgement over absent legal representative

City College Plymouth appealing judgement over absent legal representative

A southwest college has been ordered to pay more than £25,000 to a lecturer over claims she was bullied and subjected to “intimidating” remarks by her line manager.

Rachael Edgeler, a former health and social care lecturer at City College Plymouth, won her case of constructive dismissal and victimisation after she was forced to resign following criticisms from her manager shortly after her estranged husband died.

According to court documents, the teacher was subjected to “distressing” comments from the manager after she told her she should look for another job now she was a single parent.

The judge ordered the college to pay her £10,316 in compensation for unfair dismissal, £14,000 for injury to feelings and an interest payment of £905.65.

City College Plymouth has disputed the findings and is appealing the judgment “in the interests of justice and fairness” as its legal representative was not present at the hearing due to “unforeseen circumstances”.

However, Judge Nicholas Roper lambasted the college’s conduct for continually paying “scant regard” to the proceedings and being in “repeated breach” of tribunal orders, such as failing to file documents on time.

Maybe you should look for another job’

Edgeler, who began employment at the college in August 2020, was forced to resign in September 2022 after months of grievances with her manager.

The judge heard that Edgeler had a successful career at the college and had no criticism of her performance until her line manager joined in March 2022. Two days later, police told Edgeler that her estranged husband and father of her two young children had died.

While at her ex-partner’s funeral, the manager contacted Edgeler asking why she wasn’t at work, despite the college granting compassionate leave.

Upon her return to work, Edgeler’s line manager said her compassionate leave and a Covid-related sickness in late 2021 was “no excuse” for her absence.

“Now you are a single parent, maybe you should look for another job,” the former lecturer was told.

The tribunal heard that the manager publicly criticised Edgeler on a work WhatsApp group for running late. “Maybe leave home earlier as that’s the third time this week,” she told the group chat.

Edgeler was reprimanded for explaining her lateness was due to roadworks. “That’s not an excuse. Find an alternative route. Other people live that way. You would not be able to do that with any other employer,” her boss told her.

The manager was heard by a colleague claiming that Edgeler’s Covid sickness absence was “fraud”.

The judge heard that while Edgeler did not have set work hours, her boss said heavy traffic was not an acceptable excuse for being late and she must start work at 8.30am every day. She also told her that “she should look for another job with a work–life balance”.

After not receiving the results of an informal grievance with the line manager, Edgeler lodged a formal complaint with the college in June 2022. The following month, the college ruled that the manager had not “bullied or harassed” Edgeler, nor had she claimed her Covid sickness was a “fraud” as the colleague “must have misheard it”.

The college did find the WhatsApp messages were “unacceptable” for a manager and that “derogatory comments about a team member in front of their colleagues does constitute bullying behaviour”.

Edgeler launched an appeal but later found herself facing disciplinary proceedings over an allegedly transphobic comment she made to a student, and for allegedly creating a WhatsApp group to post negative and offensive comments about her boss.

After being signed off for sick leave from “stress and depression”, Edgeler found herself locked out of the college’s IT system, which was the deciding factor for handing in her resignation.

The judge said: “She was a single parent in difficult circumstances trying to cope with her work, and then found herself in a position where she felt she had no option other than to resign her employment.”

A City College Plymouth spokesperson said: “This was a case which was in fact decided in the claimant’s favour without our representative being present or our witnesses heard from. The judge decided the case despite our representative being on the way to the tribunal having been delayed due to extreme unforeseen circumstances.

“We are therefore appealing this decision in the interests of justice and fairness, and are unable to provide further comment until the appeal process has been concluded.”

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4 Comments

  1. Dave Spart

    So there was bullying behaviour, but she wasn’t bullied? And tthe member of staff being late for work is unforgiveable, but the college’s legal rep failing to turn up to the hearing should be cause for the judgement to be overturned? Right.

  2. Anon (obvs)

    A rare win for someone on the front line, but I’ll bet for the individual it doesn’t feel like a win. Presumably the College wants to appeal because they now have to declare it on ‘official’ systems and processes. (APAR, tenders etc)

    Perhaps it’s also time for some analysis on the prevalence of NDA’s in the sector. That’s a common form of financial bullying where there is a power imbalance.

    In the same way that the Police sometimes have a weapons amnesty to get guns and knives off the streets, the sector could have an NDA amnesty to open the closet door.