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Local government, psychiatric injury, stress, Protection from Harassment Act 1997

A claim for psychiatric damage as a result of alleged negligence and harassment was dismissed. The claimant was also unable to establish…

Garland v East Riding of Yorkshire Council, Kingston-upon-Hull County Court

His Honour Judge Gargan – 27 April 2016

Summary
A claim for psychiatric damage as a result of alleged negligence and harassment was dismissed. The claimant was also unable to establish causation.

Facts
The claimant was employed as a teaching assistant and later a nursery nurse at the defendant’s primary school. She alleged that her return to work after a bout of depression was negligently managed and that she was the victim of bullying and harassment by both the Head Teacher and a colleague. The allegations of harassment under the PHA 1997 related to the decisions of the Head around requests for special leave and specific part-time hours (the allegations against the colleague were effectively abandoned at trial).

Judgment
In a fact-specific case, the dismissal of the claim inevitably followed from the rejection of the claimant’s factual allegations. However, the judge made a number of interesting findings: 

  • Allegations of harassment are serious and should not be made lightly.
  • To maintain harassment allegations against a colleague in her particulars of claim and witness statement but then drop these allegations at trial reflected poorly on the claimant and this was relevant to her credibility on the alleged facts. 
  • The Head’s decisions around special leave and part-time hours were managerial decisions that could not constitute harassment.
  • The claimant’s perception of her treatment was influenced and distorted by her mental health.
  • There was no obligation on the Head to consult OH about the change in role to nursery nurse. He had considered the claimant’s health and took a decision based on his knowledge of the school and following consultation with the claimant. 

Comment
This comprehensive judgment dealt with many of the hurdles a claimant frequently cannot overcome in stress and harassment claims. Even on the claimant’s case, this was a low value claim that could likely have been settled relatively cheaply by the council, particularly given that its defence costs would not be recoverable pursuant to costs-shifting rules. However, the claim was dealt with squarely on its merits. The support of the council and its insurers for the school and its staff was wholly justified by the findings of the court. 

Weightmans LLP acted for the council in this case.

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