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Employment Tribunal: School apologises as lab worker wins bullying case

A lab technician at Tonbridge School who was verbally abused and humiliated has won an employment tribunal.

Hannah Miller, 38, of Mill Crescent, Tonbridge, Kent, worked in the physics department between January 2005 and June 2014, the Kent and Sussex Courier reports.

She overheard a pupil say “women shouldn’t be in science, they should stay at home in the kitchen”, which was laughed off by another teacher.

She was also paid less than a male colleague, Matthew Newlands, doing the same job.

At an employment tribunal in Ashford, Miss Miller won her case and it was ruled Tonbridge School had breached the equality clause relating to pay in her contract, the school had discriminated against her because of her sex and unfairly dismissed her.

She reached a private out-of-court settlement with the school.

In the tribunal it was heard Miss Miller was taking on more responsibility and carrying out more work than her male counterpart – despite him being paid more.

Despite raising the issue, her complaints fell on deaf ears and she was later signed off sick by her GP due to work-related stress.

In her statement, she said: “I felt bullied and was treated in a degrading manner in a male-dominated environment.”

It was also stated the head of science said “physics is a ‘harder’ subject and a direct ‘male’ approach was appropriate when dealing with teenage boys.”

Miss Miller said: “This is an appalling attitude and one that has communicated itself to the pupils. On walking into a classroom taught by one of the physics masters, I overheard a pupil’s comment that ‘women shouldn’t be in science, they should stay at home in the kitchen’.

“I thought initially it was the master, Dr Steven Chalk, who had said this, although he told me later that it was a pupil.

“Dr Chalk tried to laugh off the comment off but the class clearly enjoyed it, which seemed to be at my expense and acted in an unruly manner.

“I felt absolutely humiliated and isolated. Dr Chalk did not appear to be disappointed in his class for their behaviour.

“The pupil was asked to apologise to me at a later date but this was not an isolated incident. Pupils would trip me up, slam doors in my face and behave in an abusive and aggressive manner toward me.”

She added in the statement that, some years ago, a physics teacher stated in her presence in his classroom: “You should never have women in physics, I would never hire one.”

Despite making complaints, she was worried she was being an “oversensitive female who took banter too seriously”.

She then left the school.

Tonbridge School said: “We will not appeal the verdict. The allegations of ‘abusive or humiliating’ behaviour made by Miss Miller were unsubstantiated upon further investigation, but accept we should have done more at the time to ensure the science technician pay scale was fair and transparent. For this we are sorry.

“The school was in the process of evaluating and comparing pay for certain roles even before the tribunal. These changes have now been made and are consistent with our equal opportunities policy, which we take very seriously.”

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