Teacher dismissed for showing horror film suffered ‘disability discrimination’

News Article

An Employment Tribunal has ruled that a senior teacher who showed a violent Halloween film to a group of teenage students, had suffered disability discrimination.

Philip Grosset, formerly the Head of English at Joseph Rowntree School, in York was sacked for gross misconduct. He admitted at the Tribunal hearing that the decision to show the 18-rated film to a group of vulnerable 15 and 16 years olds was a “poor choice” but said it was made at a time when he was suffering from “extreme stress and ill health.”

Mr Grosset, aged 46, who has cystic fibrosis, claimed that he had been suffering from stress as a result of an increased workload from the school, which was impacting upon his lung function. He visited his GP where it was discovered that his lung function was at the lowest it had ever been and he was signed off from work due to stress.

Whilst he was on sick leave, Mr Grosset’s classes were covered by the school’s Head Teacher who discovered the horror film had been shown to the pupils and suspended him. The school carried out an investigation and disciplinary hearing, after which Mr Grosset was dismissed from his post.

An Employment Tribunal ruled that the school had not done enough to accommodate the claimant’s condition and that the “inappropriate showing of the film had arisen as a consequence of [his] disability (his mental state)”.

City of York Council was ordered to pay Mr Grosset in excess of £380,000, including more than £180,000 in compensation for the discrimination, and a further £206,000 in pension entitlements.

However, Mr Grosset lost his claim of unfair dismissal after the tribunal ruled the decision to dismiss him was fair and was an option open to the school.

The school appealed the tribunal’s ruling on disability discrimination but the decision was subsequently upheld by the Employment Appeal Tribunal.

Lara Murray an Associate and employment law expert with Palmers, said: “Despite the teacher’s admission that the decision to show the horror film demonstrated “poor choice” which was found to be sufficient grounds for him to be dismissed, the school had not properly supported him at a time when he was suffering from both  physical and mental ill health. As a result the Tribunal found that they had unlawfully discriminated against Mr Grosset.

“Work-related stress issues are likely to manifest themselves as mental illness, most commonly depression and case law has established that mental illnesses can be covered by the disability provisions of the Equality Act.

“This case reminds employers that they have a duty of care to ensure both the physical and mental wellbeing of their staff.

“Looking after the health, safety and wellbeing of your employees is a win-win as it also reduces the amount of lost days from work and increases employee retention.”

For help and advice on all aspects of employment law including in-house training about managing mental health in the workplace, please contact us.