Teacher loses case in Court of Appeal

  • Karen Clemons, former teacher is sueing the government over special needs facilities at CedarBridge Academy (Photograph by Blaire Simmons)

    Karen Clemons, former teacher is sueing the government over special needs facilities at CedarBridge Academy (Photograph by Blaire Simmons)

A former CedarBridge Academy teacher who lost a “bitterly fought” Court of Appeal challenge against the education ministry over a workplace medical complaint admitted yesterday that she did not do enough to prove her case.

Karen Clemons said: “I didn’t provide enough compelling evidence to satisfy the court.

“All I know is that I was once an information technology teacher who loved working with students and expected to work until retirement. Due to working under extraordinary circumstances, that is no longer the case.”

Ms Clemons, 60, worked at CedarBridge from 2002 to 2006 and later claimed that the stressful environment had made her ill.

In September 2016, Chief Justice Ian Kawaley found that the education minister was liable for her high blood pressure, which she said had worsened on the job.

Ms Clemons, who represented herself in court, said the case was “the first of its kind”.

The Chief Justice dismissed her claim for damages for “intentional infliction of harm” by the education ministry and rejected her submission that she developed post-traumatic stress disorder.

Ms Clemons, however, was successful with a claim for negligence on the basis of “an exacerbation of an existing hypertension condition”.

The Court of Appeal faulted that decision in a March ruling that said there was “simply no evidence” of the cause of the teacher’s high blood pressure.

The decision, handed down by Court of Appeal president Sir Scott Baker, said there had been long pleadings and “unsubstantiated allegations” by both sides.

The appeal court criticised counsel for the ministry and said “vast numbers of documents were copied, apparently indiscriminately, and most were not referred to”.

As a result, a complete transcript of the trial, covering almost 3,000 pages, had to be prepared just before the appeal was heard.

Sir Scott’s ruling added: “Only one page was referred to. This was a complete waste of public funds.”

The Court of Appeal found that Mr Justice Kawaley had been “in error in finding that expert medical evidence was not required to support findings both that the respondent suffered a physical illness in the form of a worsening of existing hypertension, and that such an illness can be, and was in this case, caused by stress”.

The court found that a worsening of Ms Clemons’s hypertension was not proved and ruled in favour of the ministry.

Ms Clemons said the decision was a disappointment, but had not surprised her.

She explained: “If you paid close attention to the questions being asked by the Appeals Court judges, you gain some insight into what they consider to be the most important factors in a case. I saw the writing on the wall fairly early.”

She said that taking the action to trial was an accomplishment despite the outcome.

Ms Clemons added: “I feel as though I’ve audited law courses for the last several years. The knowledge and experience that you gain from failure will prepare you for the next challenge.”

She said that all employers must protect the wellbeing of their employees.

Ms Clemons said: “When the system fails its employees in this regard, evidence comes in the form of lower productivity, greater instances of sick leave, high turnover, mass transfers and low morale. When this happens in education, the students are often the collateral damage.”

Ms Clemons said that she had a second defamation case, which was filed in 2009, pending.

She added: “Until then, I’m contemplating what I should do with all this paperwork that I’ve accumulated over the years. Maybe I’ll write a book.”

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Published Apr 5, 2018 at 8:00 am (Updated Apr 5, 2018 at 7:31 am)

Teacher loses case in Court of Appeal

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