A judge has barred the Malta College for Arts, Science and Technology from transferring one of its most experienced and qualified lecturers to a secondary school, effectively demoting him to a teacher, after the court upheld his claims that the termination of his employment was a vindictive one.
The court noted that the termination and order to transfer to another school was issued after a series of efforts to stop him from teaching and an order banning him from communicating with his students.
Mr Justice Francesco Depasquale, presiding over the First Hall of the Civil Court, upheld a complaint by geologist Peter Gatt that the decision to terminate his posting at the college was abusive, vindictive and in breach of his rights. The court observed that even the way the college informed Gatt about his termination was hasty and “clearly… for the purpose of prejudicing [his] rights”.
The judge noted that, even though the People Resourcing and Compliance Directorate informed everyone - except Gatt - that the revocation of his detailing to the college had been approved on June 11, MCAST only communicated with Gatt at the last minute, just three days before terminating his employment.
“It follows, therefore, that although the decision had already been taken, it is clear that the whole process was done with much more haste than normal, so the court considers that the claimant had every right to protect the few rights he had left with the present proceedings,” the judge ruled.
The court heard how Gatt works for the Education Ministry but is the only geologist at the college and has been lecturing at MCAST since 2014. He lectures in engineering geology, limestone studies and building materials.
It also heard how targeted efforts to exclude and sideline Gatt had been ongoing since the last scholastic year when he was not given a timetable and no students to teach. He was also ordered by the college deputy principal not to contact students.
This matter was reported to Education Ombudsman Vincent De Gaetano who, in a report drawn up in May, upheld the complaint. He ruled that MCAST’s decision not to assign him any teaching duties and preventing him from contacting students for such a long period of time, while remaining on MCAST’s books, “was an act which was oppressive and tantamount to degrading treatment”.
Gatt claimed that pressure to oust him from the college began when he raised concerns about the poor quality of syllabi given by MCAST over the past years.
Particularly, he criticised the syllabus of a unit he was asked to lecture and which he insisted was poorly written and lacked focus.
The judge observed that through the decision taken by MCAST and approved by the Prime Minister, Gatt was being “demoted” from a senior lecturer in the Department of Building & Construction Engineering at MCAST to a teacher at the Pembroke state secondary school. This, the judge said, had both financial and psychological ramifications.
MCAST argued that the request for revocation of Gatt's detailing was not done capriciously but with the sole intention of utilising his skills and competencies more appropriately.
However, the court quashed this argument: “The court cannot fail to observe that such an altruistic intention on the part of MCAST is certainly tarnished, if not irreversibly tainted, by the fact that with its decision Gatt will be returned to his scale of teacher and instructor at Pembroke School, despite “calibre and competencies.”
The judge also threw out the argument that Gatt should not have resorted to the court for an injunction because this could only subsist if the damage he was suffering was irremediable. He said the decision to demote him to a teacher and send him back to teach in a secondary school was irreparable damage enough, meriting the upholding of the request to stop the transfer.
The court also ordered MCAST to pay for all legal costs.
Lawyer Joseph Sammut appeared for Gatt, lawyer Francesca Degabriele represented MCAST while lawyer James D’Agostino appeared for the prime minister, the education minister and the permanent secretary.
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