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Percy v A School Trust Limited, High Court, 12 August 2004

23 August 2004
The issues

Stress at Work – Teacher – Psychiatric Illness

The facts

The Claimant alleged she had suffered severe clinical depression on two occasions between October 1997 and June 1998 and from October 1998 to the date of Trial.

She had joined the school in 1977. The Head Teacher at the time in May 1996 applied for registration under the Government’s Nursery Voucher Scheme. The owner of the school was aware that taking part in this scheme would significantly change the method of working. The Claimant felt sidelined from May 1996 which was the date when the new Head Teacher took over. She felt things were not discussed with her prior to them being announced and felt unhappy that she had not achieved the post of Deputy Head Teacher. In July 1997 an independent inspection took place suggesting that the Claimant needed to make significant changes to the manner in which she taught prior to the forthcoming Ofsted inspection.

Later that year she complained of depression and remained absent until June 1998. She subsequently worked part-time. When she returned in the autumn of 1998 she alleged she received no support or training. She went off work in October and was admitted to hospital where she stayed until January 1999. She was dismissed in November 1998. The medical evidence was to the effect that she had had no psychiatric illnesses prior to 1997 but developed serious depressive illness after that date.

The decision

1. The Claimant had established that the cause of her illnesses in both cases were stress at work.

Following the decision in Sutherland v Hatton/Barber v Somerset County Council the Claimant failed to establish in respect of her first period of illness that the employer could reasonably have foreseen it.

2. The re-lapse and her second period of breakdown was foreseeable.

3. In respect of the first period of illness the claim failed.

4. In respect of the second period the issue for the Court was whether the foreseeable illness was caused by breach of duty. The Claimant had been put under pressure at work from the first half term of the 1998 year. These pressures arose from requirements placed on the Claimant to change her teaching style. The requests to change were legitimate. The Claimant did receive support on her return to work and external training for the Claimant was sought. It could not be obtained however. Although the arrangements for the Claimant to return to work could have been different the reasons for adopting the approach which the school did were reasonable. Moreover the Defendant was not in breach of duty in respect of the school decision to continue to monitor the Claimant and to review her situation on grounds of competence.

5. It followed therefore that neither the first or the second period of severe depressive illness were caused by any breach of duty on the part of the Defendant.

Claim dismissed.

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