Thompson law NEWS & ARTICLES

Woman teacher lost job due to handshake

A tribunal has heard that a female teacher was passed over for a job at a leading boarding school in favour of a male rival who had a “strong handshake”,

Vanaja Greenwood applied for the role of full-time maths teacher at the £21,000-a-year private Pinewood School in Bourton, near Oxford, and was overlooked over in favour of fellow candidate Neil Crossley. Headteacher Philip Hoyland, when assessing the interviewees for the position, noted that Mrs Greenwood was “gentle”, whilst Mr Crossley had a “firm and strong handshake” that “inspired confidence”. Following an employment tribunal held in Bristol Mrs Greenwood has now won a sex discrimination claim against the school.

Mrs Greenwood, who has a degree in mathematics while Mr Crossley was a sports science tutor who had never taught maths, claimed she was passed over for the job because she was a woman and said she felt “belittled” when she was told the role had been given to a more “complete schoolmaster”. The tribunal heard that Mrs Greenwood had taught nursery, year one and year two pupils at the school for a number of years, and applied for the full-time maths teacher role in 2019 in order to put her degree to better use. Mr Crossley was a director of sport and head of house at a school in Nairobi, Kenya. He specialised in teaching sport and had extensive coaching experience.

The interview panel, which consisted of Mr Hoyland and two others, spent 20 minutes deliberating before unanimously appointing Mr Crossley to the position. Mr Hoyland said it was a “bold” appointment and came “with an element of risk”, but that he was looking for charisma and dynamism, and Mr Crossley’s “presence” really impressed him.

The previous maths teacher at Pinewood was head of boarding and had also coached the rugby, cricket and hockey teams. Mrs Greenwood informed the headteacher that due to her own childcare commitments she would not be able to supervise boarders in the evenings.

Upholding Mrs Greenwood’s claim, the tribunal concluded that the head teacher’s repeated use of the word ‘schoolmaster’” in assessing the candidates indicated that he was only considering a male teacher for the role. The panel also noted the terms “dynamism”, “charisma” and “presence” were used to describe Mr Crossley, adding, “We accept that women may also possess these characteristics and that Mr Hoyland has hired female teachers. However, we find that these are stereotypically male characteristics”.

The relevant compensation owed to Mrs Greenwood will be decided at a remedy hearing which will be held at a later date.