Helen Topliss won her case for unfair dismissal against Canterbury College
A former Canterbury College employee is in line for a £70,000 pay-out after she won a case for unfair constructive dismissal.
Helen Topliss, 51, faced an "intimidating, hostile and offensive" environment created by her subordinate Keith Strong, an employment tribunal heard.
She had been investigating the "egotistical" tattooed ex-Army instructor amid allegations he had entered "weeks of false claims" on a register of students' attendance and was not performing well enough.
A three-man employment tribunal found that:
- Mr Strong intimidated Mrs Topliss and spoke to her in an aggressive manner that made her feel threatened.
- Mr Strong resigned, but was employed elsewhere on the campus, prompting Mrs Topliss to feel sick and fearful.
- A doctor urged Mrs Topliss to resign for the sake of her health because of the "stress, anxiety and depression" she was suffering at work.
- College principal Alison Clarke might not have wanted to lose Mr Strong because he was key to securing a lucrative contract to teach ex-servicemen.
- The college failed to protect Mrs Topliss from harassment.
The tribunal in Ashford ruled in Mrs Topliss's favour and her solicitors demand £70,000 compensation.
It heard Mrs Topliss, who lived in Canterbury's Whitstable Road until a month ago, was made a head of faculty at the college in 2009 and was highly thought of, receiving positive appraisals.
Mr Strong was one of her lecturers and at first they shared a good working relationship, but she later began to have doubts about his work.
Canterbury College in New Dover Road, Canterbury
She complained he had not carried out her instructions and discovered "weeks of false claims" in the faculty's class registers.
The tribunal heard it "resulted in a substantial and sudden change in the nature of their relationship" in November of 2011.
Mrs Topliss asked him to "sharpen up his act" before an Ofsted inspection, it was said.
The tribunal found "that throughout this meeting he repeatedly and aggressively asked [Mrs Topliss] for a copy of the notes she had prepared for the meeting".
Keith Strong was called egotistical and assertive
Just over a week later, Mr Strong took Mrs Topliss to a lecture room where he challenged her over the findings of her investigation.
In an email to colleagues, Mrs Topliss said: "He was staring at me and speaking in an aggressive tone .. I felt extremely uncomfortable and threatened."
The incident led to Mr Strong being suspended and then to resign his job.
But his resignation was not accepted and he was offered a job working two days a week.
Mrs Topliss said she found his continued presence "deeply disturbing" and avoided walking round the college for "fear of seeing him".
On May 31 2012, Mrs Topliss formally resigned from her job.
She accused the college of failing to protect female staff from bullying and harassment and said that her doctor advised her to quit.
The tribunal panel upheld Mrs Topliss's claim for unfair constructive dismissal and ruled the college had failed to protect her from harassment from Mr Strong who created an "intimidating, hostile and offensive" environment.
A similar claim made by a colleague of Mrs Topliss's, Samantha Colbear-Pyke, was rejected by the panel.
The tribunal concluded college principal Alison Clarke was reluctant to let Mr Strong quit.
The college was hoping to teach former soldiers, especially those injured serving in Iraq, and that his knowledge of the armed forces "would assist them in furthering this contract".
Mr Strong is described in the judgment as "outgoing, popular and egotistical. He was well built with a shaven head and tattoos, was assertive and had a considerable physical presence".
Entrance to Canterbury College
Canterbury College said it intended to appeal against the tribunal’s finding and did not accept it had acted wrongly.
Spokesman Chris Thomas said: "The college is glad that four out of five of the claims made by Mrs Topliss were not upheld.
"The remaining claim was upheld on a technicality and is subject to an appeal filed by the college.
"We strongly refute any suggestion the college has not acted correctly in this matter but are unable to comment further at this present time due to the pending appeal."