Veteran Hong Kong teacher fired and who lost pension over 2019 unrest Facebook posts wins appeal against ‘harsh and oppressive’ decision

Veteran Hong Kong teacher fired and who lost pension over 2019 unrest Facebook posts wins appeal against ‘harsh and oppressive’ decision

A Hong Kong teacher fired over offensive comments about the police force during the 2019 anti-government protests has won a court challenge against her dismissal.

Mr Justice Russell Coleman of the Court of First Instance overturned the sacking in a judgment released on Friday and ruled the punishment, which included loss of pension rights, was unduly oppressive.

“I am satisfied that the punishment of dismissal without benefits is so harsh and oppressive in the overall circumstances that its imposition must have involved some error of law,” he said in the written judgment.

The legal challenge was mounted by Toffee Tam Yuk-fun, who was a teacher at the Jockey Club Government Secondary School in Kowloon Tong.

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The Jockey Club Government Secondary School in Kowloon Tong. Photo: Google Maps

Tam, who spent 27 years in the profession, was fired last July and stripped of retirement benefits after an internal inquiry found her guilty of misconduct.

Coleman highlighted that “dismissal without retirement benefits” would take away significant rights built up over the years.

Coleman added that because of Tam’s age, “it may be difficult or even impossible for [her] to find new employment, let alone employment which enables rebuilding of any part of a retirement fund”.

The dismissal decision came after a variety of Facebook posts made by Tam, which were restricted to “friends” only.

Judicial review for Hong Kong teacher sacked over 2019 protest comments

Disciplinary proceedings in 2022 found that Tam had “fallen short of the standards of a teacher” and “brought the public service into disrepute” with the messages, posted on her Facebook account between June and September 2019.

Tam also came under attack that year by a Beijing loyalist newspaper, which accused her of fostering hatred towards police with “vicious” and “vengeful” remarks about officers and their families.

The Facebook posts were alleged to be misconduct.

Her pension rights and other benefits were lost after she was dismissed.

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The judicial review, filed last October, was heard earlier this month.

Coleman said that Tam had “25 years or so of unblemished conduct” before she was hauled up on misconduct allegations.

He added he was satisfied that the need for deterrence amid civil unrest in 2019 or 2020 was “likely significantly reduced in the changed civil and societal circumstances prevailing in late 2022 and 2023”.

Coleman also questioned “why ‘only’ dismissal without benefits – as opposed to compulsory retirement … was appropriate as the punishment”.

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