A female maths teacher has won a sex discrimination claim after a school hired a male sports director with a ‘strong handshake’ over her for a maths teaching job.
Vanaja Greenwood was made to feel ‘inadequate’ and ‘unworthy’ due to her gender after applying for the job at Pinewood School in Vale of Bourton, near Oxford, an employment tribunal held in Bristol heard.
The experienced teacher already worked at the £21,000-a-year school teaching nursery, year one and two pupils – but decided to put her maths university degree to use when the job came up.
Mrs Greenwood was up against Neil Crossley, a director of sport and head of house at a school in Nairobi, who had never taught maths.
Before being invited for an interview, she was told the previous maths teacher had also been head of boarding and coach for the second team rugby, cricket and hockey.
However, she was allegedly not informed she would likely be asked to also teach boys rugby and cricket until her interview.
Mrs Greenwood told headteacher Philip Hoyland beforehand she couldn’t help to take care of the boarding pupils in the evenings as she had her own children. He encouraged her to apply anyway, saying the school could be flexible.
Before Mrs Greenwood’s interview, Mr Hoyland is said to have checked with his co-workers whether it was ‘ok’ to ask a woman to teach ‘boy’s games’.
During the interview, he allegedly told Mrs Greenwood: ‘We know you would be an excellent Maths teacher… so there’s no need for us to discuss that.’
The interview panel, consisting of Mr Hoyland and two others, took just 20 minutes to appoint Mr Crossley.
They noted he had a ‘firm and strong handshake’, while Mrs Greenwood’s body language ‘did not always inspire confidence’.
In an assessment, Mr Hoyland also said she was ‘possibly a little gentle for upper school’ and he ‘couldn’t see her offering much outside the classroom’.
In contrast, Mr Crossley was described as ‘an all-round schoolmaster with energy and commitment’.
Mr Hoyland admitted to the tribunal that it was a ‘bold’ appointment that came ‘with an element of risk’.
However, he said Mr Crossley’s ‘presence’ had impressed him, adding that he had been searching for charisma and dynamism.
After the interview, Mr Hoyland told Mrs Greenwood his decision hadn’t just been about teaching maths and she lost the role because she wasn’t a ‘big character’.
Mrs Greenwood described her interview as ‘the most awkward’ she had ever been through, claiming the questions were intended to make her appear ‘unenthusiastic’.
She claimed she felt belittled’ after she was told the role had been given to a more ‘complete schoolmaster’.
The tribunal decided the claims for direct discrimination and harassment succeeded in part, and the claims for indirect discrimination and victimisation also succeeded.
The employment tribunal conclusion stated: ‘[We considered] The repeated use of the word ‘schoolmaster’, not only in describing the successful male candidate but also as a more general description of what Mr Hoyland was looking for in a ‘complete schoolmaster’.
‘This is a term that only applies to men, and indicates Mr Hoyland’s view. [We also considered] Repeated use of words such as ‘dynamism’, ‘charisma’ and ‘presence’ when describing the successful male candidate.
‘We accept that women may also possess these characteristics, and that Mr Hoyland has hired female teachers. However, we find that these are stereotypically male characteristics – particularly the term “presence”.’
A remedy hearing will be held in due course.
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