The Governing Body of St Edmund of Canterbury Catholic High School v Hines, EAT [26 September 2003]

Delay between breach and resignation did not defeat claim: Hines was the head of the school’s special needs department. It became apparent that there were significant weaknesses in the provision of special needs teaching at the school. Following a review of her salary and responsibility points, Hines was informed she would either have to accept additional duties, or lose one of her responsibility points, which would result in a drop in salary.

Hines accepted the additional duties under protest, but her health deteriorated, and she drew this to the attention of the head teacher. In response, a special educational needs consultant was called in, ostensibly to help the school apply for a grant, but in fact they were actually there to inspect the special needs department and to monitor Hines’ work. She subsequently went off sick with stress and resigned five months later, bringing a claim of constructive unfair dismissal.

The tribunal upheld her claim on the basis that the threat to remove a salary point was a repudiatory breach, compounded by the school’s insistence that she took on additional duties and a lack of support. The school appealed unsuccessfully. The EAT was satisfied that even if the removal of the salary point did not constitute a repudiatory breach, the tribunal had clearly found a series of events constituting cumulative breaches of mutual trust and confidence, the sum of which was enough to amount to repudiatory conduct. The tribunal had been entitled to find that Hines’ illness had prevented her from being able to decide whether or not to resign. While a delay of five months might usually constitute affirmation, the special circumstances of her case (ie her illness) and her length of service were important, and could not be ignored.

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