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Teacher fired after screening horror film wins £646,000 in Court of Appeal discrimination case

17 May 2018 By Hayley Kirton

Former head of English was suffering from stress exacerbated by cystic fibrosis

A teacher who was fired after screening an 18-rated horror movie to 15 and 16-year-olds was discriminated against because of his disability, the Court of Appeal has decided

P J Grosset, former head of English at the Joseph Rowntree School, a secondary school operated by the City of York Council, said his judgment in showing Halloween to his pupils had been affected by stress, which his cystic fibrosis had contributed to.

Grosset disclosed his condition when he started the role in 2011 and the head teacher at the time made reasonable adjustments. 

However, in 2013, the school changed the way it measured teachers’ success and a new head was appointed. These changes led to a marked increase in Grosset’s workload. At one point, Grosset wrote to the new head to complain of “unreasonable deadlines, workload and pressure”, adding that he needed to attend to his health issues. 

At a meeting on 15 October 2013, the head teacher agreed that the English teacher should be referred to occupational health, but did not accept his points on workload and pressure. 

Around this time, Grosset’s lung function dropped to an “all-time low” and he faced concerns that he might require a double lung transplant. 

Across two separate lessons on 8 November and 11 November 2013, the teacher showed a class of IGCSE students Halloween, intending for the movie to be “a vehicle for discussion in the class about construction of narrative”. He did not inform the school in advance and he did not obtain consent from the children’s parents. 

On 27 November 2013, Grosset was signed off work because of stress. His head teacher covered some of his lessons and, in doing so, learned about the film screening. 

Grosset was suspended from his role while an investigation took place. During the course of this, he was interviewed. The Court of Appeal judgment noted that he accepted the film choice had been “inappropriate and regrettable” but argued that this had been affected by stress “contributed to by his cystic fibrosis”.

After a disciplinary hearing in 2014, Grosset was summarily dismissed. He appealed the decision but was unsuccessful. 

Grosset took his case to an employment tribunal, which found that he had been discriminated against because of his disability for the purposes of section 15 of the Equality Act 2010. The Court of Appeal upheld that decision on Tuesday.

BBC News reported that Grosset has been awarded a payout of £646,000. 

“The case underlines the importance of employers obtaining medical advice that assesses the possible impact of the employee’s condition before considering dismissal where the employee is known to have or at least suspected of having a disability,” Nicholas Le Riche, employment partner at Bircham Dyson Bell, told People Management. “The school in this case had knowledge of Grosset’s disability but wasn’t aware that his condition caused the misconduct that led to his dismissal. 

“The Court of Appeal also emphasised that the test for this type of discrimination is stricter than that in unfair dismissal claims and that employers will need to demonstrate a greater level of reasonableness.”

Jon Stonehouse, director of children, education and communities at City of York Council, said: “We hold safeguarding pupils and the highest professional standards as a priority in our schools. The school’s governing body considered all the information available to it before deciding to dismiss a teacher who had shown an 18-certificate film with scenes of extreme violence and horror to a class of 15-year-olds, including some vulnerable young people. 

“Six months after the dismissal, a doctor’s letter relating to the teacher but not previously shown to the school was submitted to an employment tribunal and this was used to come to the final judgment.”

Grosset had also claimed unfair dismissal in the initial tribunal but this claim did not succeed in either the tribunal or his subsequent appeal to the Employment Appeal Tribunal. Grosset did not argue this point in the Court of Appeal. 

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