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High Court upholds reprimand issued by education regulator to teacher who sent obscene response to job rejection email

An interviewee who received a reprimand from an education regulator after he responded to a rejection email with an expletive has lost a High Court appeal of the decision.

In Thomas v The Education Workforce Council [2021] EWHC 2774 (Admin), Mr Justice Johnson dismissed the appellant's position on all grounds.

The appellant had attended an interview for a teaching position as a sports lecturer at Coleg Gwent, a Further Education College in South East Wales.

Following the interview, which took place in December 2019, the college decided not to advance his application and sent him an email informing him of its decision.

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About 15 minutes after receiving the email, Mr Thomas sent a curt response which read: "Go f*ck your self. 😉"

Shortly after the email was sent, the college referred the issue to the independent regulator for the education workforce in Wales, The Education Workforce Council (EWF), with which Mr Thomas is registered.

The processing of the case was delayed – in part due to the pandemic – leading to a six-month gap between the email and EWF's consideration of the issue. During this time, Mr Thomas was unaware that a complaint had been made.

Eventually, the regulator chose a date in May 2021 for a hearing of the case.

Mr Thomas provided a written response to the allegation. In it, he refuted that he had sent the email and said that he never used emojis in work or professional conversations. He said that if he had sent the December email, it was probably "sent in error" and that it must have been meant for someone else.

Alternatively, he said, the email might have been sent by someone maliciously using his phone without telling him.

Judge Johnson noted in his decision that Mr Thomas’ undermined his assertion that he did not use emojis in work or professional correspondence when, a few days later, he ended an email to the EWF with the same 'winking emoji' that had been used in the initial email.

The hearing took place in Mr Thomas' absence, and the committee concluded that Mr Thomas himself had sent the email and that his behaviour amounted to unacceptable professional conduct. In light of its finding, the committee imposed a reprimand on Mr Thomas.

Mr Thomas later appealed the decision on the grounds that:

  • The FPC was wrong to proceed in the appellant's absence, and doing so was such a procedural irregularity as to make the outcome unjust.
  • The FPC failed sufficiently to consider the concerns that the appellant had raised in correspondence about the procedures that had been adopted, and was wrong to conclude that the appellant was the author of the email.
  • The FPC was wrong to find that sending the email amounted to unacceptable professional conduct and that it warranted a reprimand.
  • There had been a failure to disclose to the appellant that a senior employee of the Respondent was a governor at Coleg Gwent.

Mr Justice Johnson dismissed the appeal on all grounds.

The judge said: “The FPC conducted a fair hearing. It has not been shown that it was wrong to conclude that the Appellant sent the email or that this amounted to unacceptable professional conduct warranting a reprimand. Nor has it been shown that there was any irregularity in the proceedings or that the outcome was unjust. The appeal is therefore dismissed.”

Adam Carey

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