A private school teacher who was sacked after 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 had acted inappropriately towards the Year 11 student at St Columba College in Adelaide, including offering to pay her an allowance and telling her that he would be better than her boyfriend was.
The incident happened during the school’s sports carnival in March, when the teacher called the student over to help rake a sand pit.
The student told the Commission that the teacher told her that her boyfriend was 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 alleged.
The student said she was also made uncomfortable by the teacher 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 that the teacher had unreasonably intruded on the 16 year old’s personal life by 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 or he had very few items.
He said the behaviour “raises reasonable suspicion about his intent”.
The commission heard that several day before the sports day incident, the teacher had visited the store twice in an effort to see the student.
The Commission noted that the student’s workplace was around 12 kilometres from the teacher’s home, and multiple other outlets were closer.
What the teacher said
The teacher denied making the statements to the student during the sports carnival, including the term “sugar daddy”, and claimed to be “thinking out loud” about getting a massage.
He also denied visiting the supermarket where she worked twice in one day.
He claimed his dismissal was harsh because it would impact on his future employment prospects, and was seeking 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.
He had previously been the subject of three formal disciplinary incidents during his employment at the school, including allegations of inappropriate physical and verbal contact toward students.
He disputed all three incidents, but Mr Anderson noted that by virtue of issues being 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.”
What the experts say
Miles Heffernan, Director of Litigation at Industrial Relations Claims, said he wasn’t surprised with the Commission’s decision.
“I think most people would agree that if an older teacher is suggesting to a young student that he could be her ‘sugar daddy’ and they could drink wine and have neck massages, he should not be teaching,” he said.
“I am shocked that this teacher thought those sorts of comments were acceptable, and wouldn’t land him in a whole lot of trouble.
“People in positions of trust, like teachers, must always ensure their behaviour is beyond question at all times.”
READ MORE: Deputy president Anderson’s full judgement
READ MORE: What is unfair dismissal
If you have been unfairly dismissed from employment, you may be entitled to compensation or reinstatement.
For help, please call our team at Industrial Relations Claims today on 1300 853 837.
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