School taken to the cleaners
School taken to the cleaners

Education bosses have been left red-faced after it was revealed they paid a cleaner nearly $80,000 over three years for work she never did at a school that was closed.

Court documents have uncovered the blunder, which prompted the Department of Education to sue cleaner Liza Hartmann-Nieto to recover the wages, which were paid from 2006 to 2009.

That was despite her never turning up for work at East Claremont Primary School, where she had been transferred after the closure of City Beach High School.

In a judgment published this week, Justice Christopher Stevenson said Ms Hartmann-Nieto had become "lost in the system".

Judge Stevenson ordered repayment of $79,290.49, after the department successfully argued the payments had been a mistake and Ms Hartmann-Nieto had made no attempt to rectify them.

Perth's District Court was told Ms Hartmann-Nieto took a cleaning job in 2003 to support herself while studying.

The court was told that during her employment, she developed a rash on her hands that she claimed prevented her from working between February and July 2006.

After that time, she claimed the department failed to tell her of her transfer to East Claremont - but kept paying her for working at City Beach.

"I was not given a place where I can go to because I was abandoned or lost," she told the court.

Ms Hartmann-Nieto's husband Alejandro was the head cleaner and caretaker of City Beach High School at the time it closed, and then worked at East Claremont for a term.

He admitted he knew his wife was receiving a salary for work she was not doing.

In a countersuit, Ms Hartmann-Nieto demanded $220,000 compensation from the department, claiming she had suffered because of the "marking of (her) employee file", which had forced her out of the workforce.

She also claimed damages for loss of a car, which was destroyed in an accident while driving home from hospital for treatment for the rash.

The judge rejected both claims.

The West Australian

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