Teacher at orthodox Jewish nursery school sacked for 'living in sin' with boyfriend wins tribunal. A teacher at an orthodox Jewish nursery who was
Teacher at orthodox Jewish nursery school sacked for ‘living in sin’ with boyfriend wins tribunal.
A teacher at an orthodox Jewish nursery who was sacked for ‘living in sin’ with her boyfriend has won her case of religious and sexual discrimination.
Zelda de Groen, 24, was subjected to a ‘humiliating’ interview by bosses who probed her private life and told her at 23 she should be married.
They told her that having kids outside of marriage would ‘not be tolerated’ in her workplace.
She was hauled out of classes for the ‘chat’ after some parents at the Gan Menachem nursery had complained when it became known she was living with her boyfriend Oz Waknin.
During the hour-long dressing down she was told by her bosses headteacher Miriam Lieberman and nursery manager Dina Toron that a solution could be to lie and just deny she was living with him.
They thought that the problem had been solved but when she asked for an apology about her treatment two days later she was disciplined and sacked from the nursery in Hendon, north London.
Ms de Groen, now 24 who has since married Mr Waknin, successfully sued the nursery for direct and indirect religious discrimination, direct sex discrimination and harassment.
In their ruling, the tribunal panel said: “She was dealing with senior managers who were behaving rather like an overbearing mother and elder sister.
“The effect was undoubtedly humiliating, degrading and offensive.
“The claimant was distraught during and after the meeting and reasonably so. She was being probed about her private life in ways which suggested that she was behaving badly and foolishly.
“The conduct of the respondent after that meeting was equally offensive and hurtful to the claimant and continued her humiliation and degradation.”
She attended a private barbecue with Mr Waknin on May 26 last year where parents and teachers, and the nursery’s founder Mendy Freundlich, chatted, and heard they were living together.
After the barbecue, up to five parents spoke to the nursery about the couple living together out of wedlock, the tribunal heard.
One parent suggested they might not allow their child to return to the over-subscribed nursery the next year if they were to be taught by her.
A month after the barbecue she was hauled out of her class at the nursery for an interview.
Following a disciplinary procedure she was sacked about a month later for bringing the nursery into disrepute, Watford Employment Tribunal heard.
Ms de Groen was brought up in an orthodox Jewish household until she was 16 when she moved to Israel.
She returned three years later but rejected ultra-orthodoxy and was trying to find a way to live as a Jew that suited her beliefs.
She had worked at the nursery for four years, rising to the position of team leader and although the nursery was run on ultra-orthodox lines many of the parents whose children went there held different beliefs within the Jewish spectrum.
During her employment Ms de Groen knew she had to comply with the “nursery’s ultra-orthodox teaching and rules while at work”, the hearing was told.
Some of her colleagues and parents knew the couple were living together, but did not express concern or disapproval.
She said: “Mr Freundlich didn’t say anything to suggest that he disapproved of what I had said and I don’t remember there being any negative reaction to my comment from anyone else at the barbecue.”
The nursery denied any discrimination and that they acted on the recommendation of their HR company.
The tribunal said that Ms de Groen was a ‘vulnerable’ person even whilst working there and was now regularly seeing a psychiatrist.
Employment Judge Andrew Clarke QC said the couple “made no secret of their living together” and said she was asked to lie about it.
They wrote: “We consider that Mrs Toron and Mrs Lieberman did deliberately indicate at the meeting that this might provide an acceptable solution to the problem.
“However, the claimant failed to understand that this is what the respondent wanted because lying is contrary to Orthodox Jewish beliefs (and her own beliefs) and she simply did not expect either of those two ladies to be asking her to lie.
“The fact remains that they were.
“It is repugnant to generally accepted standards of morality to require someone to lie, especially about matters so concerned with their protected human rights.”
They went on: “In cross examination the hypocrisy of encouraging the claimant to lie (a breach of a fundamental tenet of Judaism) in order to cover up her breach of what was (according to the respondent) a further fundamental tenet of Judaism was explored.
“No satisfactory answer was provided.”
They concluded that a male teacher would not have been treated in such a way and that the root of the problem was interpretation of their religion.
The panel wrote: “The claimant can properly be said to subscribe to the Jewish faith whilst holding different particular religious beliefs from some other Jewish believers.
“The claimant was dismissed because she had co-habited, something contrary to the beliefs of some (at least) of those responsible for the management of the respondent and because she would not (untruthfully) say that she was no longer co-habiting.”
A remedy hearing will take place at a later date.