Teacher sued about classroom comments

The media have reported that a father and son have recently commenced a defamation action against the boy’s teacher and the Victorian Education Department for comments made by the teacher to the boy about his father.  The father and son are seeking ten of thousands of dollars in damages and aggravated damages because of the teacher’s conduct.

It is alleged that the teacher told the student during class that his father was a ‘choofer’.  It is alleged that the teacher asked the son whether his father had a job and said that the father ‘won’t get a job if he keeps doing what he does’. The teacher then allegedly told the class that ‘his dad smokes weed [and] goes into [the boy’s] room and gives him weed’. 

The father and son are alleging that the comments made by the teacher could be understood to mean that the father was a drug user and because of this, he could not obtain employment and gave drugs to the son.  Damages are therefore being sought on the basis that the comments were made by the teacher with a ‘reckless indifference to the truth’. 

The aggravated damages are sought by the father and son because they are Aboriginal and it is alleged that the comments were made knowing that they would cause significant humiliation because of their race.  The case, unless settled, will take its course through the Court process in Victoria.

Whatever the outcome of the Victorian case may be, it is a reminder that however small the number of students there may be in a class, comments made by a teacher could have legal consequences both for the teacher and the school vicariously as the employer.  The classroom should be treated no differently than to a public auditorium.  Whilst certain students might frustrate or indeed cause a teacher to lose their temper, the lack of composure on the part of the teacher will be of little benefit in a Court when an assessment is made whether a student or parent or indeed any other person may have been defamed by the teacher’s comments.

Clearly, teachers should always refrain from passing personal comments about students and their families of the type it is alleged were made in the Victorian school.  The consequences of doing otherwise could result in a teacher and a school being sued particularly if some malice can be attributed to the teacher.

Should you wish to know more about this topic please contact:

Ian Curlewis Michael Jensen
Partner Senior Associate
(08) 9288 6756 (08) 9288 6944
ian.curlewis@lavanlegal.com.au..... michael.jensen@lavanlegal.com.au
Disclaimer – the information contained in this publication does not constitute legal advice and should not be relied upon as such. You should seek legal advice in relation to any particular matter you may have before relying or acting on this information. The Lavan team are here to assist.