Former principal sues Jewish school for millions

A FORMER principal of one of Melbourne's top Jewish schools, Bialik College, is suing the school for millions of dollars over his abrupt and mysterious sacking last year.

Joseph Gerassi - believed to be the first openly gay principal of a Jewish school in Australia - was called into a meeting on August 24 last year and told the school council had ''lost confidence'' in him.

However, in a case which has similarities to the termination of Methodist Ladies' College principal Rosa Storelli, the council of Bialik College acknowledged the ''positive changes'' Mr Gerassi had made to the school.

Documents filed in the Federal Court reveal Mr Gerassi alleges his dismissal contravened the Fair Work Act and was a breach of his contract.

He is seeking compensation for loss of income, shock, distress, humiliation and damage to his reputation and professional standing.

Mr Gerassi, who is believed to have earned more than $300,000 a year as principal, is unlikely to find an equivalent job at another Jewish school given homosexuality is not condoned by sections of the Jewish community.

The mystery that surrounded his termination also meant rumours were rife within the Jewish community that were damaging to his reputation.

Mr Gerassi started as principal at Bialik College in 2009. In 2010, Bialik was ranked the equal-top performing private school in VCE, with 35 per cent of study scores 40 or above, and enrolments at the kinder to year 12 school in Hawthorn East had risen during Mr Gerassi's time.

Mr Gerassi was told to resign at the meeting on August 24 or have his employment terminated within an hour. Council president Graham Goldsmith told him 15 staff members were going to resign if his employment was not terminated.

''While the council has acknowledged many of the positive changes you have made to the college, the council has come to the difficult but unanimous decision that they have lost confidence in your ability to lead the college into the future,'' Mr Goldsmith wrote in a letter to Mr Gerassi.

He was given nine months pay - and for nine months was ordered not to attend Bialik College or speak to the media, staff or school community.

The court documents claim the school council's ultimatum that Mr Gerassi resign or he would be fired prevented him from exercising his workplace right to make a complaint in relation to his employment. They say he was not able to obtain advice or respond to the conclusion the school council had lost confidence in him.

His lawyer, Andrew Farr of Lander & Rogers, also alleges that Bialik College breached Mr Gerassi's employment contract by not offering mediation. In the notice of defence, Bialik College said a mediation did take place.

It denies Mr Gerassi is entitled to the compensation sought or that he suffered any loss or damage due to the council's conduct.

A spokesman for Bialik said the school could not comment on the case because it was before the courts. ''This happened 12 months ago - the school has put it behind it. The school community has been kept informed of the situation throughout,'' he said.

Mr Gerassi said: ''The only thing I would like to say at this point is that I took the decision to take this matter to the Federal Court at great personal cost in an attempt to clear my name and to restore my reputation.''

jtopsfield@theage.com.au

The story Former principal sues Jewish school for millions first appeared on The Sydney Morning Herald.

Smartphone
Tablet - Narrow
Tablet - Wide
Desktop