In Ruffley v. Board of Management of St Anne's School (Unreported High Court 9/5/14) the court found that the plaintiff had been subject to bullying and harassment at work in the period September 2009 to September 2010. The plaintiff was 45 years old and employed as a special needs assistant (SNA) in a school which catered for children with physical or intellectual disabilities. The plaintiff was minding a child with ADHD in a sensory room and she had locked the door from the inside. Arising from this, the plaintiff was given a final written warning lasting 18 months for breach of health and safety. The principal had gotten the approval of the board of management for the final written warning but no hearing had taken place where the plaintiff could present her case. In particular the plaintiff had evidence from a number of other SNAs who admitted to locking the door to the sensory room from the inside while with children and there was no clear policy against this, even if it was not good practice. Further, the plaintiff complained that she was reprimanded by the principal for being late on a particular date when she was not late.

The court found that the plaintiff suffered an anxiety and depressive disorder arising from treatment at work and had not worked since September 2010. The court awarded general damages for psychiatric injury to date of €75,000, plus general damages for psychiatric injury into the future of €40,000, plus special damages for loss of earnings of €93,276.


In awarding €115,000 in general damages for psychiatric injury the court was awarding more than had been awarded in previous cases for psychiatric injury arising from stress are bullying at work. Awards made in previous successful cases of this nature include the following (in chronological order):-

In Pickering v. Microsoft Ireland Operations Ltd. (2005) the plaintiff was awarded €80,000 in general damages

In Berber v. Dunnes Stores (2006) the plaintiff was awarded general damages of €40,000, but lost on appeal.

In Sweeney v. Board of Management Ballinteer Community School (2011) the plaintiff was awarded €75,000 in general damages.

In Kelly v Bon Secours Health System Limited (2012) the plaintiff was awarded €60,000 in general damages.

In Brown v. Minister for Justice Equality and Law Reform (2012) the plaintiff was awarded €55,000 in general damages, even though the plaintiff had suffered 12 years of moderate adjustment disorder.

The case is authority that the plaintiff can claim for injury arising from an employer's inappropriate and unfair use of the disciplinary procedure. Ironically, if the plaintiff had been dismissed, she may not have been able to claim for personal injury arising from the dismissal following Quigley v. Complex Tooling and Moulding [2005] 16 ELR 305.

The content of this article is intended to provide a general guide to the subject matter. Specialist advice should be sought about your specific circumstances.