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  • Una Ruffley_Bullying Complaint

    Una Ruffley Bullying Claim overturned

    In my BLOG Special Needs Assistant awarded €255,276 in Bullying & Harassment Claim I wrote about the High Court Award to Ms Una Ruffley in her Claim against her employers, the Board of Management of St. Anne`s School, arising out of a Claim of Bullying as a result of a Disciplinary process against her. On the 8th December last the Court of Appeal overturned the High Court Decision. Although this development is of particular importance to schools, it will also be of interest to any employer or representative involved in an allegation of workplace bullying.

    The original High Court decision caused extreme concern for employers, not only because of the significant monetary award to the SNA, but also because it appeared to represent an extension of the conventional definition of “bullying” by virtue of the High Court’s finding that this employer’s Disciplinary process could be described as bullying.

    The High Court Decision of 2014


    Personal Injury

    The High Court made the award in 2014 based on what Mr Justice O’Neill then described as “severe” and “unmerited” treatment in what, he found, to be persistent inappropriate behaviour towards the special needs assistant by school management. The Court of Appeal found that the definition of bullying as interpreted by Mr Justice O’Neill in the High Court had “to be stretched beyond breaking point to fit this case”.

    Flawed Disciplinary Process – Not a Case of Bullying

    The Court of Appeal found that the employee was unfairly treated by virtue of the “hopelessly flawed” disciplinary proceedings, but regardless of the flaws, the court concluded that the conduct of school management in that regard did not come anywhere close to the definition of “bullying” as set out in Quigley v Complex Tooling and Moulding [2009] 1IR 349, where the Supreme Court accepted the definition of bullying set out in the Industrial Relations Act 1990 (Code of Practice Detailing Procedures for Addressing Bullying in the Workplace) (Declaration Order) 2002 (SI No 17 of 2002) as:

    repeated inappropriate behaviour, direct or indirect, whether verbal, physical or otherwise conducted by one or more persons against another or others at the place of work and/or in the course of employment which could reasonably be regarded as undermining the individual’s right to dignity at work“.

    An isolated incident of the behaviour described in the definition may be an affront to dignity at work but as a once-off incident, it is not considered to be bullying. The court also reiterated the importance of the objective test in determining whether or not particular conduct can be classified as inappropriate.


    Mayson Hayes & Curran Solicitors, who represented the School in the Appeal, issued a Press Release stating that this decision is important for school management at primary and second level. It provides an assurance to Principals that the mere engagement in agreed disciplinary procedures will not, of itself, support a claim for damages for bullying in a civil case. Just because you are under investigation, does not mean you are being bullied.

    It also re-affirms the validity of the definition of bullying (as set out above) which is commonly found in most school anti-bullying procedures.

    Finally, it confirms the definition of “bullying” contained in the Department of Education and Skills Disciplinary Procedures (Circular 0072/2011) for Special Needs Assistants.

    Further analysis of the Court of Appeal Decision will be provided when the Court of Appeal Decision is posted to the Courts.ie website.