Sacked principal has 'strong' case

CAROLINE KING, CHARLEY MANN AND ANNA TURNER
Last updated 15:35 21/11/2012
Richard Harrison and Prue Taylor
Iain McGregor

LEGAL BATTLE: Richard Harrison and Prue Taylor arrive at the hearing at the Sudima Hotel.

James Margaritis
JAMES MARGARITIS: The former Christchurch Girls' High School board of trustees chairman.

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An employment lawyer says sacked Christchurch Girls' High School principal Prue Taylor has a strong case for reinstatement.

Taylor is seeking interim reinstatement to her job through the Employment Relations Authority (ERA) at a hearing held in Christchurch this morning. She was dismissed by the school's board of trustees on November 2.

There will be a substantive hearing into her case in February.

Christchurch employment lawyer Tim McGinn said the authority needed to consider whether there was an "arguable case of unjustified dismissal".

He believed Taylor had a good chance. 

"The threshold for establishing this is low at this stage and may even be a strong arguable case here based on what's reported to date".

McGinn said it was unlikely Taylor would be reinstated for an interim period if final reinstatement was unlikely.

"If the main barrier is an irrational problem created by the employer then this will not stop reinstatement and their complaints about irreconcilable differences won't wash," he said.

"If other staff are giving evidence that they can't work with her and there is evidence of the kids being adversely affected ... that sort of thing would swing it the other way".

McGinn said the authority also had to test the balance of convenience - which party was worse off if Taylor was or was not reinstated.

"The authority considers whether she can be adequately compensated in damages pending a full hearing. They will also consider when a full hearing can be arranged."

They would also looked at the "overall justice of the case", including all the considerations, conduct of the case and failure to put all information before the authority, McGinn said.

BOARD'S 'WITCH-HUNT' AGAINST PRINCIPAL

Earlier today the hearing heard the school's board tried to suspend Taylor just days after her husband died in the collapse of the CTV building following the February 2011 earthquake.

Taylor's lawyer Richard Harrison told the hearing board members turned up at Taylor's home with flowers and then suspended her, just days after she learnt of her husband's death.

She was told she was suspended on pay to "allow you time to grieve".

"It's just bizarre," Harrison said.

Gasps were heard from supporters in the hearing at the Sudima Hotel.

Harrison said the board of trustees had conducted a "witch-hunt" against Taylor.

"It's a witch-hunt perpetrated by the board chair ... there's enough evidence before you to indicate that's the case."

Taylor was also criticised for not attending a recent meeting with the board.

The authority heard Taylor was required to attend and the board genuinely felt Taylor had been "dodging" the meeting.

However, Harrison said the meeting was scheduled around the same time as the inquiry into the collapse of the CTV building.

"She was listening to that and bringing back all these memories for her and her family. These people were aware she couldn't face going to this," Harrison said.

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"Incredibly it's presented as though Ms Taylor was trying to avoid the meeting...For goodness sake, not many of us have been through what she's been through."

Harrison said in all his years as a lawyer, since 1982, he had never seen anything so cruel.

Harrison said if Taylor was not reinstated compensation was in order for the damage caused to her career and reputation.

"This is all money that should be used for the kids," he said.

Harrison said that even after hearing today's evidence from the board it remained unclear why Taylor had been dismissed.

Taylor had not been provided with information regarding her dismissal and as a result applied under the Official Information Act for an Education Review Office report.

'DEEP-SEATED AND IRRECONCILABLE'

Peter MacDonald, acting for the board of trustees, said the "relationship problems" between Taylor and a wide cross-section of her management team and board were "deep seated" and "irreconcilable".

He said Taylor's return to the school would be "unworkable".

"They (the issues) related primarily to aspects of conduct towards various employees of the school."

MacDonald told the hearing Taylor's behaviour towards other staff members had been unacceptable and that misconduct involved "any conduct by the principal that is unbecoming of a principal".

MacDonald said Taylor's dismissal was not due to performance or competence but her conduct, particularly towards senior managers of the school.

Her behaviour had "created a feeling of insecurity and being unsafe".

MacDonald said her return to the school would be a "very, very difficult, if not impossible situation".

CHAIRMAN'S DAUGHTER STOOD-DOWN

Harrison told the authority there was a "strong connection" between the disciplinary action over chairman James Margaritis' daughter and the firing of Taylor.

Margaritis' daughter was stood down just weeks before Taylor was told to leave the school.

Harrison said Margaritis stormed into Taylor's office on hearing about his daughter's stand down and was "incredibly rude".

Harrison said the board chairman had a "fiery temper and somewhat of a difficult personality".

"Mr Margaritis should not have, in this circumstance, been involved in that decision."

It has been told that Taylor was sacked for "misconduct".

However, Harrison said there was no misconduct and no details of any alleged misconduct had been provided.

"I would go as far to say, it's not very often I say this, from the evidence provided its difficult to see how this decision can be justified.

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

He said correspondence from Margaritis to Taylor was "unnecessarily rude" and belittling while Taylor's was polite and professional.

NO DECISION EXPECTED TODAY

The authority will consider interim options including reinstating Taylor until the main hearing, a partial reinstatement with limited duties or the status quo with Taylor not at the school.

However, the authority member David Appleton warned that a decision would not be reached today.

"I won't be making a decision here and now. I want to consider the legal arguments properly.

"I'm going to reserve my decision but I'm obviously aware of the interest in the community as well as the interest of the parties in getting a quick decision so I will endeavour to release a decision within a few days."

Board chairman James Margaritis has refused to comment.

- The Press

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