Teacher who accused colleagues of ‘blackophobia’ after they complained they were too scared to use the word ‘black’ around her over fears they would be called racist wins discrimination claim

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By Ketrin Agustine

A primary school teacher who accused colleagues of ‘blackphobia’ after they complained they were too scared to use the word ‘black’ around her for fear of being called racist has won a discrimination claim.

Andrea Mairs was let go from her job of 20 years in 2022 after six of her fellow staff claimed her ‘relentless complaining’ about racial issues in the classroom left them feeling ‘intimidated’, an employment tribunal heard.

In one instance, Miss Mairs objected to a visiting magician referring to pupils as ‘little monkeys’ – which resulted in any reference to the word being banned from the school.

Subsequently, library books were removed, art displays were taken down and the nursery and reception classes were forced to stop singing a song called ‘Five Little Monkeys’ as a consequence, the tribunal was told.

Members of the school’s senior leadership team (SLT) then launched a collective grievance against Miss Mairs, insisting they were too ‘afraid to use the word black’ in her presence and feared being the victims of ‘vicious allegations’ of racism.

The six threatened to stage a ‘wild cat strike’ if the teacher were to remain at the school.

Teacher who accused colleagues of ‘blackophobia’ after they complained they were too scared to use the word ‘black’ around her over fears they would be called racist wins discrimination claim

Andrea Mairs was hired as a teacher at Kings Road Primary School in Stretford, Manchester in September 2001

Miss Mairs – who the panel heard was ‘doted on’ by students – was eventually sacked due to the breakdown in the relationship between her and colleagues.

But she has now successfully sued the school and the local council for race discrimination over her treatment.

The Liverpool tribunal heard Miss Mairs was hired as a teacher at Kings Road Primary School in Stretford, Manchester in September 2001.

The panel were told Miss Mairs was a ‘good teacher’ who was ‘doted on’ by students and parents alike.

The tribunal heard that during her 20 years of employment, the teacher had raised complaints over nine members of staff as well as flagging several incidents which she viewed to be ‘micro-aggressions’.

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’.

Miss Mairs told headteacher Darren Morgan 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 panel heard that following her monkey complaint, Miss Mairs was blamed by staff for the decision to ban the word which created ‘tension’ amongst her colleagues.

On another occasion, Mrs Mairs’ was asked to work on black history month despite the school having a dedicated history coordinator.

The teacher felt that asking a black teacher to deliver black-related content was a ‘micro-aggression’.

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 Mr Morgan.

In June 2019, one month after Miss Mairs’ was found to be ‘performing well’ in an observation, the SLT members issued their grievance saying that her criticisms ‘have a negative impact on the whole school, team and individual morale’.

Andrea Mairs was let go from her job of 20 years in 2022 after six of her fellow staff claimed her 'relentless complaining' about racial issues in the classroom left them feeling 'intimidated' (stock image)

Andrea Mairs was let go from her job of 20 years in 2022 after six of her fellow staff claimed her ‘relentless complaining’ about racial issues in the classroom left them feeling ‘intimidated’ (stock image)

In this, they referred to the ‘cheeky monkey’ issue and said they were afraid to use the word black in any context, for fear of being accused of racism.

They branded Miss Mairs’ complaints as ‘intimidating’ and said they were ‘concerned about being labelled racist’ by the teacher.

The ‘shocked’ teacher was ‘scared’ and ‘daunted’ by their accusations, the tribunal heard, and four months later lodged her own grievance against the SLT over them.

As part of this, she accused the senior staff of ‘blackophobia’.

‘The SLT complained about not being able to use the word black,’ she said. ‘This can only be discrimination about the colour of my skin.

‘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.’

After almost a year off sick, Miss Mairs raised the possibility of coming back to work.

The SLT staff objected, saying she had ‘instilled fear in colleagues’ and ‘made staff feel unsafe at work’ by her ‘relentless complaining’.

Miss Mairs was dismissed in January 2022 after an investigating panel concluded her relationship with the SLT and head teacher had ‘irretrievably broken down’.

Whilst she was absent from the school, a petition labelled ‘Bring back Miss Mairs’ was set up and garnered 800 signatures from both parents and past students’ among others.

The petition said: ‘Miss Mairs has taught at the school for over 15 years, she is well respected and highly regarded amongst us and our community.

‘We feel it is vital that as the only Black teaching member of staff she returns and continues the work in our school as she is a great teacher and a role model to the diverse children she teaches.’

After her dismissal, Miss 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.

The school insisted that the teacher’s grievance had been made in bad faith.

However, the tribunal disagreed and found that she had been victimised by the school and staff’s reaction to it – including the investigation into her and her eventual dismissal.

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 [Miss Mairs] honestly believed that SLT 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 Miss Mairs’ compensation will be held at a later date.

Manchester

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