British teacher wins Australian 'f-word' case

13th April 2011, Comments 0 comments

A British tutor fired for teaching a class of adults in Australia about the 'f-word' has won his case for unfair dismissal.

Luke Webster was sacked for gross misconduct in late 2009 after a Sydney college discovered he used a worksheet featuring the expletive in its unedited form in every sentence with students aged in their 20s and 30s.

The exercise encouraged them to discuss whether the word was being used as a noun or a verb in each instance, content Mercury Colleges argued was not only absent from the curriculum but highly offensive.

"We are not in the business of teaching profanity," it wrote in Webster's dismissal letter.

English teacher Webster, who was forced to move back to Britain within 28 days of the sudden dismissal because it rendered his visa invalid, argued the worksheet was not intended to offend but to educate about the commonplace word.

He told a tribunal the exercise took no more than 20 minutes in a two-hour lesson and explained how sometimes the word was offensive, but in other cases -- for example as an expression of surprise -- had a more benign meaning.

"At the end of the lesson, I pointed out that non-native speakers should not use the f-word themselves," he said in a written submission to adjudicator Fair Work Australia.

"In actuality, I was teaching the high level adult students how NOT to use the f-word, which isn't clear to many students who have native English speaking friends, or watch Hollywood movies, and who tend to overuse the word."

Webster said as a teacher in Australia, where he believed the f-word is more widely used than in Britain or the US, he had also taught his students how to order a beer at a pub and and helped them decipher the local accent.

His unfair dismissal claim was backed by former colleague John Rennie, who said adult, English-language students often requested a lesson which included information on the f-word which is frequently heard on television.

"They hear this word uttered in everyday life, in the commercial kitchens, packing jobs and cleaning positions they have secured in order to pay their bills," Rennie wrote in his submission.

The tribunal's senior deputy president Lea Drake found that while use of the profanity in the course of a lesson could be a valid reason for dismissal, Webster's termination was harsh, unjust and unreasonable.

It was unjust because Webster was not given an opportunity to explain himself and it was summary and harsh because it forced him to pack up his life and leave the country within a month.

"Mr Webster's conduct did not justify termination of employment without notice," she said in her decision, which was made on Friday but only came to light Wednesday, adding that a compensation payout was possible.

© 2011 AFP

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