City of York Council has been ordered to pay more than £600K to a teacher who was sacked – after a court ruled that he had been discriminated against because he was disabled.
Judges in the London Court of Appeal found in favour of Philip Grosset, who was dismissed as head of English at Joseph Rowntree School in 2013. It followed him screening the 18-certificate horror film Halloween to a class of 15 and 16 year olds.
The case has now been through three courts overseen by nine judges – all of whom have unanimously found in Mr Grosset’s favour.
In November 2016 an employment tribunal awarded him £180,000 for unfair dismissal on the grounds of disability discrimination.
Mr Grosset suffers from cystic fibrosis, a serious incurable disease which affects mainly the lungs, but also the pancreas, liver and kidneys.
City of York Council chose to appeal against the tribunal verdict, because it holds “safeguarding pupils and the highest professional standards as a priority in our schools”.
But it was a decision that has backfired, when the three appeal judges, Lady Justice Arden, Lord Justice Sales and Lord Justice Peter Jackson, ruled against the council today (May 15) after analysing evidence at a hearing in London in April.
They said tribunal judges had been entitled to reach decisions they reached.
Lawyers representing all sides previously agreed that Mr Grosset should get £646,000 compensation if he won.
‘Head should resign’
Mr Grosset was fired after showing a group of Year 11 students, aged 15 and 16, the original 1978 movie Halloween.
Although not as shocking as many modern horror films, it does include some gory scenes and has an 18 certificate. Mr Grosset has always admitted that this was a mistake, made under huge stress exacerbated by his illness.
Today the judges ruled that he had succeeded in turning around the fortunes of the English department. And he would have been “unlikely in the extreme” to have shown the film if he had not been ill and stressed.
Speaking to YorkMix Mr Grosset said he was delighted to get “confirmation yet again that the original decision was correct”.
He said that the Joseph Rowntree School head teacher Richard Crane should consider his position in the light of the verdict: “Mr Crane the headteacher must now resign. And if he won’t then he should be suspended immediately and there should be a full investigation.”
Mr Grosset also said the school hadn’t carried out disability training as it was ordered to do after a previous ruling. But City of York Council said today the senior leadership team and the governing body have undertaken that training.
In response to today’s verdict 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 judgement.”
Lost several years of life
Mr Grosset, who is 47 and lives in Haxby, said five years of legal battles had taken their toll.
“My health has taken a dip – I’ve had a lot more hospital treatment than before this happened.
“My family’s been affected. It’s been five years when I should have been looking after my family and enjoying our time together. But both my kids are now leaving home.
“We’ve looked after each other but it feels like a wasted five years.”
He said he was proud that the Court of Appeal verdict effectively strengthened the law in favour of disabled workers.
The council could in theory now take the case to the Supreme Court. But on Wednesday (May 16) a council spokesperson told YorkMix that they would not be doing so.
The news will be welcomed by Mr Grosset. He said:
Doctors confirmed that I’ve lost several years of life expectancy because of the illness caused by this.
And as part of their defence City of York Council argued in open court that it’s less important for somebody with limited life expectancy to lose a few years.
That’s why I haven’t got any sympathy for them.
One of the reasons they’re in this situation is because of this brutish attitude all the way through to disability.
Mr Grosset said if they had handled the case right he would still be teaching – a job he loved – and it would have never cost anyone a penny.
He believes the council’s legal bill – on top of the £600K compensation payment – will be well into six figures.
“They appointed one of the country’s top QCs, the head of an Oxford college, and he’ll be on getting on for £1,000 an hour,” he said. “They’ve been throwing money at this. It’s time for that to stop.
“It’s almost like a legal vendetta the council is on and they need to stop that now and make it right.”
City of York Council say they haven’t had the final bill yet so cannot confirm how much has been spent on the case.
Mr Grosset said he now has a job in IT with a “fantastic employer”.
“That’s the take-home message,” he said. “Good employers have got nothing to fear. Disabled people have a lot to offer in the workplace.
“They do have rights. But if they work together these situations will not happen.”