Reasonable and proper cause to suspend

March 6, 2019, By

In the case of Mayor and Burgesses of the London Borough of Lambeth v Agoreyo, the Court of Appeal examined the use by a school of the power to suspend and considered potential breach, in this respect, of the term of trust and confidence.

In this case, Ms Agoreyo was an experienced primary school teacher. Allegations were made against her that she had used unreasonable force towards children on more than one occasion. Two of these instances were investigated by the school and Ms Agoreyo was found to have used reasonable force. However, following a third incident, Ms Agoreyo was suspended and promptly resigned.

Ms Agoreyo brought a county court claim for breach of contract against the local authority, claiming that her suspension was a breach of the implied duty of trust and confidence, entitling her to resign in response. The county court rejected Ms Agoreyo’s claim and found that the Respondent had clear reasonable and proper cause to suspend Ms Agoreyo due to the Respondent’s duty to protect the children pending a full investigation.

Ms Agoreyo appealed.

The High Court allowed the appeal and found that Ms Agoreyo’s suspension breached the implied term of trust and confidence as it was a ‘knee-jerk reaction’ to the complaint against Ms Agoreyo.

The Court of Appeal allowed the appeal, holding that the High Court had wrongly interfered with the trial judge’s findings of fact, rather than identifying any misdirection of law or other error of principle. The Court of Appeal also erred by introducing a test of necessity – in this respect, the High Court had asked whether it was reasonable and/or necessary for Ms Agoreyo to be suspended. The Court of Appeal made it clear that only test is whether there was reasonable and proper cause to suspend the employee in question.