Tullamore teacher loses harassment case

A Tullamore teacher’s claim that she was bullied and sexually harassed by a male colleague was dismissed last week by a High Court judge as “not credible” The male colleague, Jim Mooney, had denied Mary O’Toole’s claims, alleging she had pursued him including on one occasion when she shouted in the letterbox of his house: “I just want to be with you.”

A Tullamore teacher’s claim that she was bullied and sexually harassed by a male colleague was dismissed last week by a High Court judge as “not credible” The male colleague, Jim Mooney, had denied Mary O’Toole’s claims, alleging she had pursued him including on one occasion when she shouted in the letterbox of his house: “I just want to be with you.”

Mrs O’Toole had sued Co Offaly Vocational Education Committee, claiming she was the victim of “a campaign” of bullying and harassment by Mr Mooney, a colleague at Tullamore College. In his reserved judgment last Friday, Mr Justice Iarfhlaith O’Neill found there was no sexual harassment or bullying on Mr Mooney’s part directed against Mrs O’Toole. The judge accepted Mrs O’Toole had romantically pursued Mr Mooney who, on each occasion, rejected her advances. Prior to November 1998, shortly after Mr Mooney “unequivocally rejected” Mrs O’Toole, she made no complaint about him to the VEC, the judge noted. He found the VEC had no liability in the case.

Mrs O’Toole from Whitehall Estate, Tullamore, had claimed that while she was a teacher at Tullamore College, she was “harassed, sexually harassed and intimidated.” She left Tullamore College after, she claimed, she was leered at, inappropriately touched, verbally insulted and demeaned by Mr Mooney on occasions between 1996 and 2000. She admitted damaging Mr Mooney’s car in 1998 but denied pursuing him. In her action, she claimed the VEC was negligent and in breach of its duty of care towards her. The VEC denied her claims.

Mr Justice O’Neill accepted Mr Mooney’s evidence he never engaged in any behaviour towards Mrs O’Toole “which had any kind of sexual connotation or suggestion”. The judge added that evidence from other witnesses, including two former housemates of Mr Mooney’s – Christy Doherty and Louis O’Keeffe – and another teacher at Tullamore College, Michelle Brooks, was of considerable assistance in resolving the conflict of evidence.

Both housemates said Mrs O’Toole had called around to the home they were sharing with Mr Mooney twice on an evening in May 1997. Despite being told Mr Mooney did not want to speak to her, they said she shouted in the letterbox: “I just want to be with you” and “I want to be with you, Jim.”

The judge found that their evidence was truthful and accurate and the purpose of her visit was not to discuss Mr Mooney’s alleged misbehaviour towards her, as she had claimed, but “to express her own interest in Mr Mooney”. The most probable explanation of that visit was “a desperate attempt to advance or develop a romantic relationship” with Mr Mooney.”

Following that incident, Mrs O’Toole sent a letter to Mr Mooney “redolent of a romantic interest” on her part in Mr Mooney and of “a very urgent desire to discuss this with him”, the judge said. He was wholly unconvinced by her explanation that the letter was an attempt to disarm Mr Mooney in a bid to stop him harassing her.

Michelle Brooks gave evidence that Mrs O’Toole had told her she was very interested in Mr Mooney, and that her attitude became quite negative around October 1998. The judge found Ms Brooks gave truthful evidence which supported Mr Mooney’s version of events.

He ruled that Mrs O’Toole was not bullied by the principal and vice-principal at Tullamore College or by the chief executive of Offaly VEC Diarmuid O’Neill, and rejected claims they had not properly investigated her complaints against Mr Mooney.