Tribunal hears school ‘discriminated’ against disabled teaching assistant from Upper Holloway

Haverstock School

Haverstock School - Credit: Archant

A former teaching assistant with multiple sclerosis (MS) claimed she faced discrimination in the workplace because of her disability, a tribunal heard.

Sarah Kelsey was sacked from Haverstock School, in Chalk Farm, last year for being frequently late or absent when she was supposed to be reading to under-performing pupils, the court heard on Tuesday.

But Miss Kelsey, of Upper Holloway, who worked at the school for nine years, told London Central Court in Holborn that her requests to have flexible starting times to accommodate her condition were ignored.

She claimed she was being harassed, and that her bosses would send her emails asking why she was late, when other late teaching assistants would not be questioned, judges heard.

Saying she felt “ostracized” in the year before she was fired, Miss Kelsey, of Upper Holloway, told the court: “I felt I didn’t belong there. No-one was interested in what I was going through.

“It was just work-related matters and procedure.”

But under questioning from Camden Council’s lawyer, Suraj Sudra, she admitted it was reasonable for the school to ask for her whereabouts after being late or absent. However, she told the court the school “wasn’t interested” in her explanation.

Most Read

Agreeing with Mr Sudra that she was late or absent half the time she was supposed to be reading to pupils, the court heard she had asked line managers for a later starting time, and to just read to pupils in the afternoon instead.

But her working hours were not changed, the court heard.

A occupational health report advised Miss Kelsey’s employers to give her a flexible starting time and access to a room where she could rest, judges were told.

But the court heard that the report was only issued days before Haverstock School dismissed her in June last year, having put her on garden leave on full pay 12 months before. An earlier report did not consider her to have a disability and that she was fit to carry out her work responsibilities, the tribunal heard.

Miss Kelsey blamed her lateness and absence on the steroids she was taking to treat her MS-related symptoms, which caused insomnia and “hot sweats,” the court heard.

She was not diagnosed with MS until after she had been fired, she said. But the court heard that she was being treated at Hampstead’s Royal Free Hospital for related symptoms, including the loss of sight in one eye.

Despite this, she told judges that her bosses had “no compassion”, and when she did receive offers of help, it was only because the school wanted to complete tasks.

Miss Kelsey, who burst into tears at one point in the hearing when her condition was being discussed, said: “I felt I was at a disadvantage because of my illness. I couldn’t see out of one eye, I couldn’t sleep because of the steroids I was having.

“I didn’t feel myself, and that continued throughout. I was frustrated. I had explained to everyone very clearly about what I felt like.”

The tribunal continues.