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Employment Case Law Update: City of York Council v Grosset

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Mr Grosset was a teacher at a school run by the City of York Council. He suffered from cystic fibrosis, which required that he spend up to three hours per day carrying out physical exercise to clear his lungs; a fact the Council was aware of.

Following changes to the school’s performance standards and the appointment of a new head teacher (who did not personally know of Mr Grosset’s disability), Mr Grosset’s workload increased. He soon found he was struggling to cope, became stressed and suffered physically as a result. Whilst subject to this high level of stress, Mr Grosset showed an 18-rated film to a class of 15 and 16 year olds, without the prior approval of either the school or parents.

Mr Grosset was suspended pending an investigation. In the disciplinary proceedings, Mr Grosset argued that showing the film was an error in judgement due to the high level of stress he was under, arising from his disability. The Council did not accept this argument and Mr Grosset was dismissed for gross misconduct.

Mr Grosset brought claims to the Employment Tribunal for unfair dismissal and under the Equality Act 2010. The ET found he had not been unfairly dismissed, as the dismissal was within the Council’s range of reasonable responses. However, it concluded that the film had been shown whilst Mr Grosset was suffering from an impaired mental state due to the stress that arose from his disability; thus the claim for discrimination arising from a disability under section 15 of the Act was upheld.

The Council appealed to the Employment Appeal Tribunal but the EAT did not alter these findings. If you are reading this and recognising this case, we did report on the EAT decision in February 2017.

Following this decision, the Council then appealed to the Court of Appeal, the focus of which was on section 15 of the Act. Under section 15, discrimination arising from a disability occurs where both of the following are satisfied:-

  1. A must treat B unfavourably because of something arising in consequence of B’s disability. It was accepted that the dismissal amounted to unfavourable treatment. The focus of the appeal was whether or not it was necessary for the Council to have appreciated that the misconduct arose in consequence of Mr Grosset’s disability. The COA determined that this was not necessary; it was an objective assessment and so there was no need for the Council to have appreciated it. The fact that the Council did not have medical evidence at the time was immaterial.
  2. The other criterion is satisfied if A cannot show that the treatment is a proportionate means of achieving a legitimate aim (i.e. they cannot objectively justify that unfavourable treatment in the circumstances). The Council was unable to objectively justify the unfavourable treatment as it had failed to make reasonable adjustments to manage Mr Grosset’s workload – and if it had, then the event would not have happened.

This case highlights well that employers should look into the circumstances more carefully before taking disciplinary action where the employee is disabled, and consider obtaining medical evidence at the time to assess whether the disability had affected the employee’s performance.  If the employer does not know of the disability at all, they may have a defence. The case also reiterates the important obligations on an employer to put in place reasonable adjustments for disabled employees.

ENDS

This is for information purposes only and is no substitute for, and should not be interpreted as, legal advice.  All content was correct at the time of publishing and we cannot be held responsible for any changes that may invalidate this article.