Sunderland headteacher denies school worker was bullied out after cancer scare

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A HEADTEACHER has dismissed allegations that a school worker was forced to quit her job after bullying by colleagues as “totally untrue”.

Monica Shepherd, who runs St Anthony’s School, in Sunderland, issued the denial while giving evidence at an employment tribunal brought by ex-admin assistant Deborah Gilbert.

Earlier, the hearing was told how the mother-of-two, from Leechmere Grange, had only recently returned to work after a cancer scare when she first reported the alleged incidents.

The 42-year-old, who volunteered to return early to the Thornhill Terrace school after an operation to remove a benign groin tumour, said she was “shunned” by colleagues, and endured “sly digs and black looks”.

She also claimed that she was asked “are you not better yet?” after she requested that her duties be cut down until she fully recovered from the surgery.

However, Mrs Shepherd said she was unaware of any problems at the time of Ms Gilbert’s employment and maintained staff did all they could to help her back to work.

“At the time the claimant returned to the school, it was our understanding that she was fully fit to work,” she said.

“We had no information that she would be unable to do certain activities.

“There was no indication that there would by a need for any special requirements.

“It was later drawn to our attention that she would not be able to continue to carry out first aid duties, so the claimant was put on ‘lighter duties’.”

Ms Gilbert, who said she was accused of bullying herself after raising the issues with school bosses, revealed she developed depression, permanent nerve damage and irritable bowel syndrome.

She is also said to have suffered weeks of insomnia due to stress and worry.

Mrs Shepherd said: “I received no reports from occupational health regarding the claimant’s health. The claimant made no reference to any difficulties she was experiencing.”

Ms Gilbert is claiming disability discrimination, breach of contract and constructive unfair dismissal against the school, at the hearing in Newcastle.

She said she was forced to do extra work, including sorting post for staff, switchboard and reception duties, despite her condition and was subjected to “laughing and joking” at her expense.


Twitter: @SunderlandEcho