Hartlepool lecturer wins ‘substantial payout’ over treatment at college

Hartlepool Sixth Form College. Picture by FRANK REID
Hartlepool Sixth Form College. Picture by FRANK REID
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A Hartlepool college lecturer unfairly dismissed from her job has received a “substantial” undisclosed payout.

Sue Houchen, former head of law at Hartlepool Sixth Form College, resigned last year after taking sick leave due to work-related stress and depression.

We have reached an agreement for a substantial undisclosed settlement. It has been a very stressful time and I am glad it has now come to a close.

Sue Houchen

Mrs Houchen blamed her illness on a campaign by the college to undermine and remove her, citing a lack of support from management and a breakdown in her relationship with her deputy.

An employment tribunal found Mrs Houchen’s claim she had been unfairly constructively dismissed was well founded and the college had unlawfully deducted one week’s holiday pay.

It dismissed claims she had been subjected to detriment over whistle-blowing, that she had been discriminated against because of her depression and that the college was in breach of contract by failing to pay Mrs Houchen a bonus.

Claims against then-acting principal Carole Horseman and head of faculty Maureen Bunter personally were dismissed.

The case was originally adjourned to last Friday for a remedy hearing to set compensation, then put back for another week.

But yesterday’s scheduled hearing was cancelled after Mrs Houchen reached an agreement with the college via arbitration service Acas late on Thursday.

“We have reached an agreement for a substantial undisclosed settlement,” she said.

“It has been a very stressful time and I am glad it has now come to a close.”

The tribunal heard that divisions developed between Mrs Houchen and her deputy Joe Coomer and law tutors Linzi Shipley and Nadine Hall towards the end of 2013.

Employment Judge John Hunter said the college had taken the complaints from staff against Mrs Houchen at face value and did not interview her before formulating disciplinary charges.

The judgement stated: “It seemed to the claimant and to us that the respondent (college) had decided to resolve the difficult situation in which it found itself by dismissing the claimant.”

The college had ignored its own sickness policy by not holding a welfare meeting to keep Mrs Houchen informed about what was happening, it said, and added: “We are satisfied that the respondent’s decision to proceed with a disciplinary hearing and press for a dismissal together with the presentation of further charges that were at least in part manifestly without foundation was the final straw for the claimant.”

The college declined to comment.