Council ordered to pay £180K to disabled teacher sacked by York school

York council has been ordered to pay £180,000 to a teacher after a tribunal ruled that he had been discriminated against because he was disabled.

Philip Grosset, who was sacked as head of English at Joseph Rowntree School, says the decision ends three “gruelling, stressful” years of fighting for his rights against both the school and the council.

A medical investigation found that the school’s actions had reduced his life expectancy by two years.

Both the senior leadership team and governors of Joseph Rowntree School have been 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.

An additional award, to reflect the loss of his pension, could take the final cost to City of York Council to well over £500,000, Mr Grosset said.

Incurable disease

A video interview with Mr Grosset by David Dunning of Minster FM

On November 1, a ruling by three judges at an Employment Appeal Tribunal upheld an earlier hearing which found that, while his dismissal was not unfair, it was unlawful on the grounds of disability discrimination.

Mr Grosset has cystic fibrosis, a serious incurable disease which affects mainly the lungs, but also the pancreas, liver and kidneys.

It also causes repeated chronic chest infections, and requires medication and daily health routines lasting two to three hours in his case. You can learn more on the CF Trust website.

When he joined Joseph Rowntree School the previous head teacher Maggi Wright allowed Mr Grosset a “few reasonable adjustments” to help him work with the disorder. These included giving him some notice of meetings or big changes, offering some slack over deadlines when he was ill, and time off for medical appointments.

Mr Grosset, who is 46 and lives in Haxby, said that changed after the appointment of the present head teacher Richard Crane in September 2013:

He increased my workload without any reasonable justification, and often at little or no notice. I very quickly ran into problems, having to cut corners in my health routines to meet huge deadlines at short notice.

My physical health suffered, and I quickly became stressed and anxious, which in turn made my CF worse: a vicious cycle.

He took time off with stress and ill health. And that was when Mr Crane discovered the incident that was to lead to Mr Grosset’s dismissal.

The Halloween incident

Jamie Lee Curtis in Halloween
Jamie Lee Curtis in Halloween

During a piece of coursework based on a film, the teacher showed Year 11 students, aged 15 and 16 the original 1978 movie Halloween.

Although not as shocking as many modern horror films, it does have an 18 certificate and, in the words of the British Board of Film Classification, “Strong threat runs throughout the work, with an early flashback to the killing of a teenage girl and the later stalking and killing of young people in the quiet suburb.”

“It was wrong, and I shouldn’t have done it,” Mr Grosset admits. “And I held my hands up straightaway and I still would.

“But the situation I was in was such massive stress. I was so punch drunk: it’s a real combination of being physically ill, the workload and the undue pressure that really made me run down.”

No students or parents complained about the film screening. But later, when Mr Grosset was off ill, the head Mr Crane covered one of his lessons and learned about the movie.

Joseph Rowntree School
Joseph Rowntree School

“It came as a complete shock when Mr Crane rang me up at home and told me he was suspending me for gross misconduct and potentially I could get the sack for this. It came as an absolute bolt from the blue.”

After a disciplinary hearing, involving members of the school’s governing body as well as senior staff, the school decided Mr Grosset should be sacked for gross misconduct. He appealed against the decision but lost.

He said: “My days in teaching were over, my health was still badly affected, and my and my family’s future was precarious. I had lost everything.”

Tribunal verdict

Head teacher of Joseph Rowntree School Richard Crane. Photograph: City of York Council
Head teacher of Joseph Rowntree School Richard Crane. Photograph: City of York Council

He took the council to a tribunal which ruled, a year ago, that he had been unlawfully discriminated against. City of York Council chose to appeal which meant the ordeal went on for another year before the appeal judges upheld the original decision.

When he was waiting for that ruling “it was terrifying. Me and my wife sat at the back of the court hanging on to each other really.

“When the final verdict came we both burst into tears because it was so traumatic.”

Mr Grosset said the council’s decision to appeal delayed justice. “They’ve had well over a year when they could have been accepting they’d done something wrong, exploring ways to try and make it right.

“They could have, for example, offered me different work at City of York Council or help me find some way back into a workplace in York, and made real efforts to try and make it right.

“Instead they spent that year fighting tooth and nail, spending tens of thousands of pounds on legal bills, fighting me over medical evidence.”

The council’s response

City of York Council issued this statement in response to the employment tribunal verdict:

We can confirm that a hearing before an employment appeal tribunal has taken place involving a former member of staff at Joseph Rowntree School who was dismissed on the grounds of gross misconduct.

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.

‘I want it to stop’

Mr Grosset says he doesn’t expect an apology after all this time, but he does want an investigation.

“I want it to stop. I want to make sure it doesn’t happen to anyone else. If there are people who have acted wrongly then they should be investigated just as fully as I was.

“To be frank, I think Mr Crane should consider his position, and should consider whether he can still command respect from teachers and the local authority.”

Mr Grosset has a daughter now studying law in Nottingham and a son in sixth form. He is now working for Cubic Interactive, an IT company in Harrogate, where his employer understands his condition and treats him very well.

It is the second time in recent months that the departure of a teacher from Joseph Rowntree School has hit the headlines.

In July Bill Davis was made redundant from his job as a PE teacher and head of year at the school after 30 years’ service. That prompted a petition signed by hundreds of people calling on his reinstatement, and a protest outside the school gates.

Mr Gosset said: “I know Bill well. I know the details of his case. If somebody doesn’t get hold of that situation then they may find themselves sleepwalking into yet another difficult legal situation.”