A school teacher sacked for telling a student he could be her “sugar daddy” has lost his unfair dismissal claim.
The Fair Work Commission found the 50 year-old teacher acted inappropriately towards the Year 11 student at St Columba College in Adelaide.
For example, offering to pay her an allowance in addition to telling her he will be better than her boyfriend.
Teacher offers to be ‘sugar daddy’
The incident happened during the school’s sports carnival in March, when the teacher asked the student to help rake a sand pit.
The student told the Commission that the teacher told her that her boyfriend is not nice enough for her.
“He said words to the effect, ‘I can treat you better. I can be your sugar daddy.
“I can pay you small allowances. We can drink red wine. You can give me neck massages’.”
The student also said the teacher made her feel uncomfortable by standing near her as she bent over to rake the sand.
She told other teachers and her mother about the incident the same day.
In addition to the sports carnival incident, Commission deputy president Peter Anderson found the teacher had unreasonably intruded on the 16 year old’s personal life.
He did this by deliberately seeking her out at the supermarket she worked at.
Mr Anderson said he would “often if not always” go to the checkout staffed by the student, even when other checkouts had shorter queues.
He said the behaviour “raises reasonable suspicion about his intent”.
The Commission heard that several day before the sports day incident, the teacher visited the store twice, in an effort to see the student.
Mr Anderson noted the student’s workplace is 12 kilometres from the teacher’s home, and had the choice to visit multiple other closer outlets.
Teacher denied behaviour
The teacher denied making the statements to the student during the sports carnival, including the term “sugar daddy”.
He claimed to be “thinking out loud” about getting a massage.
He also denied visiting the supermarket where the student worked twice in one day.
Furthermore, he argued the dismissal had been harsh because it will impact on his future employment prospects.
He asked the Commission to be reinstated.
What the Commission found
Mr Anderson said he was “well satisfied that [the teacher] used the words ‘sugar daddy'”, describing his behaviour as “inappropriate, unprofessional and a valid reason for summary dismissal”.
“The conduct was recklessly indifferent to the legitimate rights of the student.”
Mr Anderson said he treated the teacher’s evidence with caution, finding it to be “conveniently selective” and “not persuasive”.
“Overall, the character of this evidence was evasive; designed to avoid making a damaging admission but to appear reasonable by not denying all elements of the allegations except the most grave,” he said.
The teacher had previously been subject to three formal disciplinary incidents during his employment at the school.
These included allegations of inappropriate physical and verbal contact toward students.
He disputed all three incidents, however, Mr Anderson noted that the issues raised “ought to have caused him to again reflect on the boundaries of appropriate conduct”.
“That a teacher with experience and who had (whether rightly or wrongly in their view) been cautioned about past behaviours, would nonetheless undertake such conduct suggests a cavalier disregard of professional obligations.”
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