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Nursery sued by teacher fired after revealing she was living with boyfriend

Orthodox school says parents threatened to withdraw children over teacher's lifestyle

    Watford Employment Tribunal (Google)
    Watford Employment Tribunal (Google)

    A Jewish teacher has claimed she was a victim of discrimination by an Orthodox nursery which fired her after learning she was living with her boyfriend.

    Zelda de Groen, 24, was dismissed in July 2016 by Gan Menachem, an independent nursery in Hendon, north-west London, which follows Lubavitch teachings.

    She said she felt she was being “punished… for a private and personal issue that was entirely separate to my work”.

    But the nursery said it had received threats by parents to remove their children after the teacher’s lifestyle became known.

    Watford Employment Tribunal heard this week that Ms de Groen had grown up in a Charedi family in Stamford Hill but left the community “after many years of significant discontent” and spent three years in Israel.

    On her return to Britain in 2012, she got a temporary job at Gan Menachem through her mother’s friendship with the headteacher, was taken on permanently shortly afterwards and promoted to team leader in 2013. In her statement, she said she led “a semi-secular way of life”.

    In April 2016, she moved in with her boyfriend Oz Waknin – whom she has since married – in Pimlico, 10 miles from Hendon.

    The following month, the couple were invited by friends to a Lag Ba’Omer barbecue, which was attended by a number of parents of children at the nursery as well as its owner Mendy Freundlich.

    While chatting to Mr Freundlich, Ms de Groen mentioned she and Mr Waknin were living in Pimlico.

    A month later, she was summoned to a meeting with the managing director of Gan Menachem Miriam Lieberman and co-director Dina Toron.

    Ms de Groen said, in her witness statement, she was “subjected to a continuous personal attack on my life choices, including particularly my decision to live with my partner.”

    She said she was shocked at the questioning and told them “I didn’t feel comfortable with what they were asking”.

    In her statement, Mrs Toron said she and Mrs Lieberman were “shocked” that Ms de Groen had disclosed the information she was cohabiting with her boyfriend and had asked her “why she would say anything regarding her private life in such a public setting”.

    Two days after the meeting, Ms de Groen asked them for an apology but the nursery then launched disciplinary proceedings against her.

    The disciplinary letter said she had “openly disclosed” the fact she was living with her boyfriend at the barbecue, where not only the owner of the nursery was present “but parents of children in your care also heard the conversation”.

    She was alleged to have shown herself to be acting “in contravention of the nursery’s culture, ethos and religious belief” and to have damaged its reputation. Her disclosure had led to a potential loss of income by the nursery as parents had “threatened to remove their children”.

    In its defence, the nursery said parents sent their children there for its “strong religious principles” and respect for the precepts of the faith was expected of members of staff.

    “Jewish law forbids cohabitation prior to marriage,” it said.

    But Ms de Groen argued, “My personal life had no influence on my performance and teaching with the children”.

    After a four day hearing, the tribunal is expected to rule on her claim for sex and religious discrimination in a month.

     

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