AIT teacher fails in unfair dismissal case

A woman who taught at the Athlone Institute of Technology (AIT ) for 11 years, was replaced by an assistant and then encouraged to apply unsuccessfully for this position in 2008 when the assistant took a career break, failed in her claim for unfair dismissal and was awarded just €1,380 by the employment appeals tribunal at its most recent sitting in Athlone.

Maria Murray, Windsor Lodge, New Park, Athlone was employed to teach English as a foreign language (TEFL ) part-time in the AIT from September 1995 to April 2008, although she last worked in this capacity in May 2006.

Ms Murray was employed to teach conversational English to European students spending, typically, one semester at the AIT in exchange for Irish students studying overseas under an Erasmus programme. There were no examinations or project work in the TEFL course.

From 2002 the make-up of the TEFL classes changed to a mixture of European students under Erasmus and Asian students who were fully fee-paying. At all times attendance at TEFL classes was voluntary for both European and Asian students.

Asian students were required, as part of their individual courses of study, to undertake a foundation programme, including foundation English, which included literature, essays and projects.

There were examinations along with assessments throughout the year which Ms Murray, whilst qualified to run TEFL classes, did not have any qualification enabling her to conduct the foundation English classes.

In 2002 the college employed an assistant lecturer to conduct the foundation English classes and over the next few years a second assistant lecturer was appointed for the same purpose as demand rose.

In May 2006 a situation arose in the college whereby one of the two assistant lecturers employed to teach foundation English had a teaching load of 14 hours per week where the normal requirement for an assistant lecturer is for 18 hours per week.

A decision was taken to allocate the TEFL classes to the assistant lecturer with the spare hours and Ms Murray’s services were dispensed with. Though there was some dispute as to when she was told this, both sides agree Ms Murray was only formally notified of this decision in writing in April 2008.

Then, in the summer of 2008 one of the assistant lecturers was granted a one-year career break as a result of which an advertisement was placed for an assistant lecturer in English for the period of the career break.

This vacancy was brought to the attention of Ms Murray by a member of the AIT staff and she duly applied for the position but her application was ultimately unsuccessful.

Ms Murray claimed she was encouraged to apply for the position on the basis that it was really her old job and that she was the favoured candidate for the position.

The college explained to the tribunal that the member of staff who brought this vacancy to Ms Murray’s attention was not aware, prior to the interview process, of the claimant’s qualifications apart from her diploma in TEFL. Ms Murray was unsuccessful in this application.

The AIT contended that Ms Murray’s role as a part-time TEFL lecturer ended by reason of redundancy in May 2006 and the tribunal agreed.

It was further satisfied that the position for which the claimant applied in the autumn 2008 was not the same position that she had previously held. For all these reasons the claim under the Unfair Dismissals Act must fail and the tribunal awarded €1,380, being six weeks’ pay under the Minimum Notice and Terms of Employment Acts, 1967 to 2005.

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