A black teacher who “relentlessly” rowed about racism with colleagues has won a discrimination claim against her former school.
Andrea Mairs lost her job of 20 years after six of her fellow staff claimed her “relentless complaining” about racial issues in the classroom had left them feeling “intimidated”, an employment tribunal heard.
In one instance, Ms Mairs objected to a visiting magician referring to pupils as “little monkeys”.
This resulted in any use of the word being banned from the school, with library books and art displays being removed and three and four-year-olds blocked from singing the “Five Little Monkeys” nursery rhyme.
She was eventually sacked
She was eventually sacked due to the breakdown in the relationship between her and colleagues, but has now successfully sued King’s Road Primary School in Stretford, Manchester, and Trafford Council for race discrimination over her treatment.
She had joined the school in September 2001 but over the following two decades she raised complaints about nine members of staff and flagged several incidents which she viewed to be “microaggressions”.
On one occasion, the teacher “raised” an issue after she saw a photograph in an art display which showed a black student wearing a label that read “blackcurrant”.
Ms Mairs told headteacher Darren Morgan that she thought it was inappropriate for a black child to wear a sticky label that said blackcurrant as it could be “misconstrued” and asked the staff to be sensitive about labels, the tribunal was told.
The panel heard that following her monkey complaint, Ms Mairs was blamed by staff for the decision to ban the word which created “tension” amongst her colleagues.
On another occasion, Ms Mairs complained that it was a “microaggression” that she had been asked to work on the school’s Black History Month provision, when the school had a dedicated history coordinator.
The teacher was also once asked to “deal with” a black parent who accused the school of racism - despite the parent wanting to speak to the headteacher Mr Morgan.
In June 2019, members of the school’s senior leadership team (SLT) launched a collective grievance against Ms Mairs, insisting they were “afraid to use the word black” in her presence and said they were “concerned about being labelled racist”.
The six threatened to stage a “wild cat strike” if the teacher remained at the school. In response, Ms Mairs accused them of “blackophobia.”
In response, Ms Mairs said: “They are unable to use the word black, which indicates how uncomfortable they are around their black colleague.
“This again is racial discrimination and more commonly known as blackophobia.”
‘Instilled fear in colleagues’
After almost a year off sick, the SLT objected to Ms Mairs coming back to work because she had “instilled fear in colleagues” and “made staff feel unsafe at work” by her “relentless complaining”.
She was dismissed in January 2022 after an investigating panel concluded her relationship with the SLT had “irretrievably broken down”.
Whilst she was absent from the school, a petition titled “bring back Miss Mairs” was set up and attracted 800 signatures from parents and past students, saying she was “a great teacher and a role model to the diverse children she teaches”.
After her dismissal, Ms Mairs sued Trafford Council and the school governors for unfair dismissal, race discrimination by victimisation, and unauthorised deduction from wages and breach of contract – all of which were upheld.
Employment Judge Jane Aspinall said: “Miss Mairs was a long-serving teacher with no performance issues prior to these proceedings...and no previous disciplinary issues.
“The Tribunal finds that [Ms Mairs] honestly believed that SLT’s motivation was because they were afraid that if they raised a concern with her she would accuse them of racism. This is what she meant by use of the term ‘blackophobic’.
“She honestly believed that SLT would not have lodged a collective grievance about matters in their grievance without having previously raised them with the individual teacher on a one to one basis, if that teacher had not been black. She believed and believes to this day that was true.”
A remedy hearing to decide Ms Mairs’ compensation amount will be held at a later date.