Principal was forced out by 'witch hunt'

Last updated 10:37 22/11/2012
Prue Taylor
John Kirk-Anderson
SACKED: Prue Taylor.

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Sacked Christchurch Girls' High School principal Prue Taylor could know tomorrow if she will get her job back in the interim.

Taylor and her lawyer Richard Harrison yesterday appeared before Employment Relations Authority member David Appleton - the first step of a process towards interim reinstatement to her job.

The school board says Taylor was sacked on November 2 because of "deep-seated, irreconcilable" differences. Her behaviour made staff feel insecure and unsafe and her return would be untenable, they told the authority.

But Harrison said Taylor had been subject to "cruel" behaviour by the board and argued it had not presented evidence about the misconduct which led to her dismissal.

Appleton said he would endeavour to release a decision as soon as he was able, citing Monday at the latest.

Harrison is working to have Taylor back at the school before prizegiving, on December 10.

''I think it would be good if she got back before prizegiving, it is a huge event,'' he said.

During yesterday's hearing, Harrison cited an incident just days after Taylor's husband of 43 years, Brian Taylor, had been confirmed dead after the collapse of the CTV building in the February 2011 earthquake.

Two board members turned up on her doorstep with a bouquet of flowers and a letter telling Taylor she was suspended for the remainder of the academic term on pay so she could grieve.

"This is how they reacted when they found out her husband had died," Harrison said.

Harrison also told the authority there was also a "strong connection" between the disciplinary action taken against board chairman James Margaritis' daughter and Taylor's dismissal. Margaritis' daughter was stood down just weeks before Taylor was fired.

Harrison said Margaritis had stormed into Taylor's office after hearing the news and was "incredibly rude".

He said Margaritis had a "fiery temper and somewhat of a difficult personality".

In another instance, Harrison said Margaritis told the school's hostel manager that Taylor had opposed a salary increase.

"Mrs Taylor did not," he said.

"Mrs Taylor was told she had to do market research before she could approve the salary increase."

Further, three senior managers had signed a single statement for the hearing but not contributed individual legal affidavits, Harrison said.

"From the evidence provided it is difficult to see how this decision can be justified," Harrison said of Taylor's sacking.

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"There's no misconduct. Mrs Taylor has done nothing wrong."

He said Taylor had endured a "witch-hunt" by Margaritis.

Harrison's statements were frequently met with applause and cheers from Taylor's supporters - parents, pupils and other principals who packed the room.

Margaritis and employment law adviser Peter Macdonald hit back, saying Taylor's return would be "untenable" and suggested compensation would be appropriate.

Macdonald also told the authority yesterday the board has lost trust and confidence in Taylor's leadership.

He said Taylor created a "feeling of insecurity and being unsafe" among staff and made one senior manager feel "sick at night about the thought of going to school the next day".

Issues were "deep-seated, irreconcilable and related primarily to (Taylor's) conduct towards various stakeholders," he said.

Macdonald, who was brought in by the board in April, also told the authority he found Margaritis "mild mannered" with no "fluctuations" in his personality, not a man with a "difficult personality" as Harrison claimed.

At the hearing, Macdonald also cited one instance where the board had tried to hold a mediation meeting with Taylor and Harrison that "the board genuinely felt that (Taylor) was dodging".

The meeting was rescheduled four times - twice because Taylor was seeking evidence and information about her "misconduct", and once because Harrison was working at another case.

The final time it was postponed, the day that the board decided to fire Taylor, was because she was "stressed", Macdonald said.

Part of a coroner's inquiry into the deaths in the CTV building was held on that day.

Last night after the hearing, Macdonald provided The Press with a copy of the letter given to Taylor after the death of her husband.

In the letter, the board offered their condolences and said: "We believe it is necessary for your wellbeing that you take time away from the school environment and the demands of work, so you have time to grieve".

They said acting principal Peter Sawyer would keep Taylor up to date on what was happening at the school. The board also offered the services of a clinical psychologist.

A substantive hearing into the case will take place in early February.

- The Press

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