What can you learn from this case?
Mr Aplin was a primary school Headteacher. He was 42 years old and had been a teacher for 19 years (6 of which as a deputy head). He was openly gay and this was something known to the school's governors. He met two 17 year old males on 'Grindr' (a social networking app for gay, bi, trans and queer people) and, after two meetings, the three of them engaged in sexual intercourse.
This came to the attention of the police and social services. A Professional Abuse Strategy Meeting was arranged by the Local Authority, attended by the school's chair of governors and after the meeting the school suspended Mr Aplin.
At a further Strategy Meeting it was concluded that no child protection issues or criminal offences had been committed. A recommendation was however made that the school consider disciplinary action.
Notwithstanding the conclusions made at the second Strategy Meeting, the investigating officer approached the matter on the basis that Mr Aplin posed a danger to children. The matter was referred to a disciplinary panel on this basis and Mr Aplin was dismissed.
Mr Aplin appealed his dismissal, meaning that his employment continued. However before the appeal hearing, he resigned and claimed constructive unfair dismissal. He also claimed sexual orientation discrimination, arguing that the reason for both his dismissal and various issues with the disciplinary process had been that fact that he was gay.
The Employment Appeal Tribunal (EAT) upheld Mr Aplin's claims for constructive unfair dismissal and sexual orientation discrimination.
This case highlights the significant risks posed by unconscious bias. Internal processes should always be as objective as possible. In this case officers involved in the disciplinary process were criticised for allowing their decisions to be impacted by their biases.
When approaching an internal process it will always be sensible for those involved to scrutinise their objectivity. Where a risk of unconscious bias may exist, employers may find it helpful to appoint external investigators to underpin the objectivity of the process.