A male teacher from Devonport High School for Girls was awarded around £45,000 by an employment tribunal in a case where he was accused of sexual assault “for fun”. Mr Jonathan Hawker, who worked in the school for five years, was sacked based on gross misconduct after a few girls put allegations of sexual assault on him.
What Exactly Happened?
Mr Hawker was employed as a math and computer teacher at the Devonport High School for Girls between March 2017 to February 2022. He was arrested and charged following allegations of inappropriate behaviour with students in September 2021.
Sexual Assault Allegations By Students
According to the evidence submitted, multiple students came forward and said Mr Hawker made them uncomfortable. In June 2021, one student said that he touched another student’s (Student H) leg which made her uncomfortable. Student H then confirmed the incident and that she did mention this happened to the other students.
Student H also made other claims that he winked at her and repeatedly got close to her. When the designated safeguarding lead, Mrs Ruth Morgan, spoke to other students to corroborate these incidents, she also heard of a rumour that Mr Hawker was having an affair with a sixth former (which was false).
A bunch of other students who were asked about the incident said they all heard from Student H that it did happen, but none of them witnessed it themselves. A couple of students claimed that he massaged their shoulders and stroked their arms, and further claimed that he did the same to many other students as well.
Following the allegations, Mr Hawker was suspended in June 2021.
“We Got Mr Hawker Fired”
After Mr Hawkers’ suspension, a new report emerged by older students who said they heard the younger students say that they got Mr Hawker fired for fun. An older student, Student L, said “In the netball courts at lunch a group of (x years) told us that they tried to get Mr Hawker fired for fun and they told people that he was touching their thighs and sexually assaulting them.”
In addition to this, another student said, “When I was leaving the bottom court with Student L, we were talking to some year xs, who then said “I think we got Mr Hawker fired” to which I replied “What? Why would you do that” to which one of them said “Because it was fun” and another one added, “Yeh we said he touched our thighs trying to get him done for sexual assault.”
In both these reports, Student H was named as the main person who tried to get him fired. However, the school did not take these reports into account and there was no record of the two older students being spoken to regarding their evidence in this investigation.
Following this, Mr Hawker was arrested in September 2021 from his house and all his electronic belongings were taken away. An internal investigation was set up in November 2021 where the disciplinary panel found that Mr Hawker’s behaviour was constituted as gross misconduct and he was sacked in February 2022.
While the police decided that the sexual assault charges against him would not proceed, his appeal was not successful, and the dismissal based on gross misconduct was confirmed. This is when Mr Hawker brought an unfair dismissal claim to the employment tribunal.
What Did the Employment Tribunal Say?
The case was heard in front of Judge Street who said that this was indeed a case of unfair dismissal. According to the judge, the school ignoring the evidence by older students was not rational and it misled the disciplinary and appeals panel.
The Tribunal also found that the investigating officer was not trained in carrying out proper investigations and did not conduct a full and fair investigation. Judge Street further added that “No reasonable employer would conclude that the younger girls were giving truthful evidence in good faith without question; that is, without exploring the contrary evidence including the contemporary evidence from the older girls of a plot against Mr Hawker based on a closely similar allegation.”
However, there is no conclusive decision about whether Mr Hawker has committed the alleged misconduct. The judgement reads, “I make no finding on whether Mr Hawker committed the misconduct alleged. What I can say is that if he is innocent, and a playground plot can end a career and destroy a reputation, the school is not providing a safe working environment for its staff, in particular for its male staff.”
More information on unfair dismissals can be found here