Teacher sacked after party ‘butt grab’
A NSW primary school teacher was stood down after being accused of harassing colleagues during and after a staff Christmas party harbour cruise.
Wendy Dighton, a casual teacher with 14 years of experience, was working at Riverstone Public School in Sydney's northwest when she attended the event with around 60 co-workers in December 2017.
But her behaviour during and after the party ultimately cost her job.
According to legal documents seen by news.com.au, it was alleged Ms Dighton made "sexual contact with another staff member" without her consent after the party. The incident was reported to police but later retracted.
As a result of that accusation, Ms Dighton's teaching approval was "temporarily withdrawn", and she was added to the NSW Department of Education's "Not To Be Employed List" as an investigation into her actions by the employee conduct unit (EPAC) was under way.
By June 2018 more claims emerged, including that Ms Dighton made "unwanted physical contact" with another staff member during the cruise by dancing with him and "rubbing (her) buttocks against his genital area in a grinding motion".
In an email sent to the EPAC investigator, that staff member claimed the incident left him "extremely uncomfortable" as it "occurred without any interaction in the lead-up to it" and took place in front of his wife and colleagues, who were "understandably shocked".
He said he avoided Ms Dighton for the rest of the night as a result, and in a follow-up phone call, he said the encounter took place when a group of workers were dancing to the Macarena.
The school principal, who claimed to have witnessed the act, described it as "very sexualised" and involving "groin to groin" contact.
After the party, a group of eight teachers including Ms Dighton stayed the night at an apartment in Pyrmont, and she was also accused of further misconduct in that location.
It was alleged she straddled one teacher's body, kissed her neck and cheek and touched her inappropriately and also walked around the apartment naked in front of colleagues.
In an affidavit, that teacher claimed the incident left her feeling "extremely uncomfortable and violated" and she felt "confusion and shock" immediately afterwards.
She also recalled waking up in the night and hearing Ms Dighton and other colleagues in the midst of a "sexualised conversation about threesomes and going down on women" that she did not want to participate in.
Ms Dighton denied most of the allegations against her, with her legal team claiming they were a "complete fabrication" and a "vicious lie" designed to "try to get her kicked out of the school".
She admitted to being briefly naked at the apartment for "three minutes" but denied that it constituted misconduct.
She also denied the incident during the cruise ever occurred.
Ms Dighton went on to file an unfair dismissal application, but yesterday the NSW Industrial Relations Commission ruled her dismissal was "not harsh unreasonable or unjust".
In his determination, Commissioner John Murphy rejected Ms Dighton's claim and accepted evidence that she had grabbed her male colleague's buttocks and was "grinding on him" at the party, as well as the incident which occurred at the apartment, which "constituted a gross violation" of the female colleague's body.
"This misconduct alone was sufficiently serious to justify the termination of the applicant's employment. Taken together with (other allegations) which I have found proven, it is my determination that the termination of the applicant's employment was neither harsh, unreasonable nor unjust," he said.
The Sydney Morning Herald reports Ms Dighton is considering appealing the decision.