A teacher with cystic fibrosis has won £180,000 compensation after the Employment Appeal Tribunal ruled his employer discriminated against him on the grounds of his disability during his dismissal for a disciplinary offence.
Philip Grosset, who was head of English at Joseph Rowntree School in York, was sacked for gross misconduct in 2014 after showing the 18-certificate horror film Halloween to 16-year-old students.
Grosset described his actions as a “poor choice” made at a time of “extreme stress and ill-health”, which did not deserve more than a verbal warning at most. Instead, he was sacked – and the tribunal accepted his argument that the school’s failure to take account of his disability before and during the process amounted to discrimination.
Grosset was working long hours at the time, with no allowances made for his disability, the tribunal heard. His previous headteacher made reasonable adjustments such as allowing him to attend medical appointments and offering flexibility over deadlines, but that changed when new headteacher Richard Crane took over.
Grosset’s workload increased and he had to cut corners in his health routines to meet deadlines at short notice, the tribunal heard. Under stress, Grosset’s lung function fell by nearly half a litre, and a medical investigation found that his life expectancy had reduced by two years.
While Grosset was off work because of stress, Crane discovered that he had shown Halloween to year 11 pupils as part of their coursework. Although no students or parents complained, Grosset faced a disciplinary and was eventually sacked for gross misconduct.
“I was given the sack for a single, one-off offence after a 12-year career in local schools,” said Grosset. “As a middle-aged man with a chronic health condition, my entire career and livelihood had been taken away from me.”
Grosset appealed the decision but lost. He took the City of York Council to a tribunal that ruled he had been unlawfully dismissed. The council chose to appeal, but judges upheld the original decision and Grosset was awarded £180,000 compensation. An additional award, to reflect the loss of his pension, could see the final amount reach more than £500,000.
The tribunal found that the school was responsible for “serious and substantial acts of discrimination” and that it failed to make reasonable adjustments for the needs of a teacher with cystic fibrosis
Its report said: “Looked at on its own, we would not regard the single serious error of judgement involved in showing the film Halloween to a class of 15-year-olds as sufficient, in itself, to constitute gross misconduct... it is clear the showing of the film occurred at a time when Mr Grosset was experiencing a high level of work-related stress, and that this seriously affected his judgement.”
The senior leadership team and governors at the school were ordered to undergo training in disability in the workplace, and the council must take specific measures to ensure appropriate support is in place for other disabled employees.
The City of York Council said: “The tribunal agreed the dismissal was fair and the council is currently reviewing the other outcomes of the tribunal decision and will of course fully comply with them.”
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