A primary school teacher who claimed she was discriminated against by her school after being told to take Covid tests and wear a face mask at the height of the pandemic has lost her legal battle.
Ijeomi Onyebalu refused to comply with the school’s policies of testing twice a week and covering her face – reasoning that it was a ‘personal choice’ that didn’t require any justification.
Despite pleas from the headteacher for her to ‘pull together’ with other members of staff for the safety of students, ‘uncooperative’ Ms Onyebalu once again refused, an employment tribunal has heard.
Judge Benjimin Burgher dismissed Ms Onyebalu’s claims of unlawful discrimination and concluded she had ‘disregarded anyone but herself’ in her decision not to take Covid tests or wear a mask.
The tribunal, held in east London, heard Ms Onyebalu started working at Gascoigne Primary School, in Barking, London, in November 2015.
The primary school had decided to follow government guidance by suggesting face masks be worn and staff take tests twice a week upon their return in March 2021.
Teachers were notified in December 2020 about these measures and told while testing was ‘voluntary’, they were ‘expected’ to do it.
Between June 2020 and March 2021, Ms Onyebalu attended school without testing, wearing a mask or a face covering and failed to provide a specific reason for not complying.
In September 2020, she wrote to headteacher Joanne Preston stating she was ‘exempt’ from wearing a mask but that it was a ‘personal choice’ that didn’t require justification.
In February 2021, Ms Preston wrote to her saying ‘all colleagues should pull together and place our children and their education at the forefront’.
After insisting she wouldn’t conform to the school’s policy, Ms Onyebalu was told not to return to work on March 8.
In September 2021, she was invited to a disciplinary meeting for refusing to participate in asymptomatic testing or wear a mask and was subsequently handed a final written warning for 18 months.
In November, Ms Onyebalu resigned and took her claims of unlawful victimisation to the employment tribunal where they were dismissed.
Judge Burgher said: ‘[Ms Onyebalu] had an agenda to seek to undermine the school’s asymptomatic testing and face mask policy.
‘The tribunal concludes that she disregarded anyone but herself during the difficult time that the school and society as a whole was facing.
‘This is underlined by her comments that she was not at the school to make other people comfortable.’
The panel acknowledged while Ms Onyebalu was entitled to ‘fundamentally disagree’ with the school’s policy, she would have to face the consequences of doing so.
Dismissing her claims of discrimination and victimisation, the judge added: ‘[She] adopted an obtuse and uncooperative standpoint and the tribunal conclude that the school sought to manage her with incredible patience and diligence.
‘The [school] could not be criticised by deciding to take steps to seek to protect the health and well-being of its pupils, staff and parents.’