15 Jan 2017

Principal awarded $150k for unfair sacking

2:04 pm on 15 January 2017

A principal has been awarded $150,000 for being unfairly dismissed from Canterbury's Rangiora High School.

Peggy Burrows was fired from Rangiora High School after 13 years as principal there.

Peggy Burrows was fired from Rangiora High School after 13 years as principal there. Photo: Supplied / Peggy Burrows

Peggy Burrows said she was relieved with the Employment Relations Authority decision, which found allegations against her were not sufficiently investigated.

"It was extremely important to me and my family to clear my name and not be remembered for something I did not do," she said.

"My heartfelt thanks go to the community and teaching staff who stood by me and my family during this very difficult time."

The authority awarded her eight months' pay and $20,000 for embarrasment and humiliation, but her call to be re-instated was turned down.

Ms Burrows had been principal of Rangiora High School for 13 years when she was fired in March 2016.

It all began when Ms Burrows challenged the purchase of farm land, creating tensions between her and three board members.

The Ministry of Education was contacted to help, and in 2014, two specialist advisers, including Beverly Moore, were brought in.

The board was eventually dismissed and Ms Moore took over as Commissioner, following concerns the relationship between the principal and board became dysfuctional.

Following a TVNZ report, Ms Moore dismissed Ms Burrows on three grounds, including releasing confidential documents to the TV station and accessing her laptop when instructed not to.

But the authority said those allegations were not investigated sufficiently, and Ms Moore had not given Ms Burrows clear instruction to not access her computer.

"For all the foregoing reasons, I have concluded that a fair and reasonable employer could not have dismissed Ms Burrows in all the relevant cicumstances," the authority said.

It denied Ms Burrows' application for reinstatement, saying she would find it difficult to establish a working relationship with the Ministry and the school's leadership team.

The authority ordered Ms Moore to pay Ms Burrows eight months' lost remuneration plus cost, which her lawyer has calculated to be $150,000.

Ms Burrows said she was "thrilled" with the decision but said the money the school had spent pursuing the case would have been better spent on the school's students and staff.

In a statement, Ministry of Education acting deputy secretary David Wales said employment law was complex, and he had been assured Ms Moore sought legal advice from the New Zealand School Trustees Association and lawyers before making any decisions.

"We continue to have confidence in the work that Bev Moore is doing at the school and her focus on ensuring that these employment matters are not impacting on the education that the students are receiving."

Mr Wales said Ms Moore would stay at the school until a new principal was hired.