Wednesday, 10 February 2010

Lewis v Howick College Board Of Trustees Employment Court 19 January 2010


This is just a quick note about this recent decision. It is not about the merits or the law, but praise for the sensitivity with which Chief Judge Colgan dealt with a difficult case, where Mr Lewis was unwell and did not handle his case very well at first instance. In particular. He said “Whether as a consequence of indemnifiers’ caution or for other reasons, both cases illustrate the potential for dealings between parties to teaching employment relationships to become prematurely and unduly legalistic. In this case, although perhaps for understandable reasons because of what was perceived to have been Mr Lewis’s intimidatory and manipulative dealings with his employer’s representatives, the Board’s lawyer assumed personally and almost from the outset, the conduct of the process that led to Mr Lewis’s dismissal. Whilst, for reasons set out in this judgment, that did not ensure compliance by the Board of its obligations towards its employee, my concern is that it deprived those with expertise in education from even having a substantial advisory involvement.” And further “The other feature on which I wish to comment generally concerns how schools may address circumstances such as Mr Lewis’s to avoid the unfortunate consequences for all illustrated in this case. Although I am not aware whether such arrangements were in place in this case, its unfortunate circumstances may illustrate a need for teachers, principals and boards of trustees, with the assistance of their professional organisations, to consider putting in place collegial support systems for increasingly isolated teachers in circumstances such as Mr Lewis’s. Although I imagine that the professional teacher unions do so for their members, not all teachers have access to the member welfare services provided by the PPTA or the NZEI. It would probably not be unusual if teachers in the circumstances of Mr Lewis resigned from such organisations in any event so that the desirability of independent assistance is apparent. Although there are, no doubt, a number of models that might be considered and adapted, the scheme providing for welfare officers in the Police and the Friends’ Panel amongst lawyers are two with which this Court is familiar. I commend consideration of such a scheme by the New Zealand School Trustees’ Association, the teacher unions and the relevant school principals’ organisations.”

In other words, lawyers can get in the way of resolving disputes which should be solved by non legal tools.