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Bullying in Werribee Secondary College

This is an interesting case regarding Werribee Secondary College.  Below represents three articles written on cases of bullying at this school.

WorkSafe has investigated the school previously (2010) raising its awareness about bullying.  The cases highlight the issues of bullying by children and adults.  It is a widespread problem that requires our society to look at how we behaviour and what drives bullying behaviour.  When these issues are uncovered they present opportunities for organisations to look at bullying and develop policy, training and research to ensure it is dealt with from the perspective of organisational culture, how conflict is dealt with, how fear or threats can be de-escalated and to focus on building harmonious and open workplace cultures and in the case of schools, role modelling conduct that is respectful, inclusive and clear about what is acceptable and what is not.

ELEANOR HALL: A $1.3 million payout to a Victorian teacher could open the way for other employees to sue state governments for damages.

Peter Doulis sued the Victorian Government over being made to teach some of Werribee College’s worst students.

As Lexi Metherell reports.

LEXI METHERELL: From 2000 to 2004, Peter Doulis taught some of Werribee Secondary College’s most difficult students.

Eventually he suffered a nervous breakdown and had to stop working.

He went on to sue the Victorian Government

The court heard his students were regularly violent, and one even made a flamethrower in class.

Supreme Court Justice Timothy Ginnane ruled the school breached its duty of care to Mr Doulis by failing to ease the pressure he was under.

Today costs were finalised, and the 48-year-old has been award nearly $1.3 million in damages, loss of past and future earnings, and interest.

Employment lawyer and barrister Tim Donaghey says there are significant implications from the case.

TIM DONAGHEY: The implications of this case go to the question of negligence in a workplace environment and injuries flowing from that negligence.

Negligence is very old law, but it tends not to be applied except in those kind of slip and fall cases of negligence where, say a cleaning product has been left out in a super market.

This is taking that kind of law into the realm of workplace injury.

LEXI METHERELL: Tim Donaghey says it may change the way employees seek to be compensated for bullying in future.

TIM DONAGHEY: It is partly a focusing of the mind, that is, litigants who have been subject to severe pressure might now think of suing, and in a real sense, in a legal sense that we call the authority of a particular case to persuade a judge, this will be a legal precedent.

LEXI METHERELL: And so, do you think that the tide is turning in a way against employers who persist with employees being in situations where they are under extreme pressure?

TIM DONAGHEY: Well, it’s not clear because of the narrow facts of Mr Doulis, whether this is likely to flow on a short distance to very few other employees, or to a great many employees.

But, as I’ve already said, I think it’s already very limited in its factual substrata or its factual background.

What I think is more likely to happen is that this will be something that employees consider in future when perhaps considering bullying claims, as you mentioned, and they might then instead look to whether they have a demonstrable psychological injury, involving lack of sleep or loss of appetite or other symptoms that Mr Doulis’s presented, and then look to the common law courts instead of, say, the Fair Work Commission.

LEXI METHERELL: So could other teachers now sue for stress at work?

The Australian Education Union’s Victorian Branch deputy president, Justin Mullaly, says to avoid that, schools must have the capacity to support their teachers.

JUSTIN MULLALY: Look, I think one of the things that we need to take out of the decision at the Supreme Court is that governments, in relation to government schools, need to make sure that the resources are available to principals and to school staff so that the health and safety of school staff is attended to in the context of dealing, at times, with situations where it’s certainly challenging in our classrooms.

LEXI METHERELL: And are those resources available generally?

JUSTIN MULLALY: Look, in Victoria, we’ve got a situation that sees each Victorian government school student underfunded by almost $2,000 compared to the national average every year, and we’ve seen in Victoria over the last four years more than $600 million cut out of public schools.

So, it’s certainly the case that we are in a situation where we do not have the necessary resources, principals don’t have the resources to deploy in their schools so that staff can be able to do the work they need with the students that they teach.

ELEANOR HALL: That’s the Australian Education Union’s Justin Mullaly ending Lexi Metherell’s report.

Teacher takes bullying claims to court


A MELBOURNE school has been investigated by WorkSafe after a series of violent incidents. 

Cases of students attacking teachers have been reported at Werribee Secondary College in recent months, and several teachers have lodged compensation claims over alleged bullying by senior staff.One case is due to go before the courts this Friday. 

WorkSafe inspectors visited the school late last year and again in May over issues relating to health and safety and occupational violence involving students.

A WorkSafe spokeswoman said yesterday that after the May visit, the school complied with a notice to improve procedures for yard duty by staff.

In May last year, police investigated an incident in which a teacher needed stitches after a student hit him over the head with a garden stake.

Other assaults have also been reported at the school.


Werribee principal Kurt Butyn said the school was safe, and violent or aggressive behaviour was not tolerated.

“The three students involved in the three incidents last year were appropriately disciplined,” he said.


“Our school is a safe school but, with 1400 students, incidents occur from time to time. Our dedicated staff work extremely hard to manage those incidents appropriately.”

Last year, Werribee teacher Paul Unsworth was awarded up to $140,000 by a magistrate who ruled that his depression and stress were aggravated during a performance review at the school.

The case is under appeal.


Several other teachers have also lodged claims relating to alleged bullying.


Liberal education spokesman Martin Dixon said Premier John Brumby didn’t care about the welfare of teachers in Victorian schools.

Education Minister Bronwyn Pike said the safety of teachers and students was the Government’s highest priority.

“Unlike Ted Baillieu and his callous Liberal Party – which sacked over 9000 teachers – we have employed an extra 10,000 teachers and support staff, and take their wellbeing very seriously,” she said.

Teachers sue over bullying

A BULLYING crisis among teachers at a Melbourne school could cost Victorians more than $1 million.

 Four teachers from Werribee Secondary College – the school at the centre of a sexual-assault-on-DVD scandal three years ago – are taking legal action for what they claim is psychological damage resulting from bullying and harassment by colleagues.

They say they have hired lawyers and are expected to take their cases to court next year, with claims ranging from damages to loss of income – as a result of their employment at Werribee Secondary College.

Another has received a $140,000 payment. In May, Paul Unsworth successfully argued his depression was aggravated during performance reviews at the college.

The teachers have collectively spent several years on paid leave, accumulating hundreds of thousands of dollars in WorkCover payments.

This development comes as a WorkSafe study shows two in five Victorian teachers report being victims of occupation bullying – double the state average.

The study – reported in the Sunday Herald Sun on December 6 – found 39 per cent of staff in the education and training sector suffer intimidation or abuse.

The Werribee “bullying” claims are expected to cost taxpayers and Victorian employers who pay WorkSafe premiums as much as $1 million.


One former Werribee SC teacher, who has not taken legal action but left the college “out of exasperation” several years ago, said she still suffered the consequences.

“I went to my new school very vulnerable, and I still have issues (because of my experiences),” she said.


This teacher, now working at another Victorian school, said WorkCover payments were an easy get-out clause for schools whose staff complained about bullying and favouritism.

“Who cares? They don’t. It’s a drop in the ocean and (the school) doesn’t have to pay,” she said.


One former Werribee SC teacher preparing for legal action, and who is on 75 per cent of her $45,000 wage while not working, said she fell into a “deep depression” after not being supported following a workplace injury.