Teaching assistant loses Christmas Grinch award religious discrimination claim

A Muslim teaching assistant who claimed that being given the Christmas Grinch prize at a staff award ceremony amounted to religious discrimination has lost his employment tribunal case.

Salah Toughfar said he was “upset and distressed” to have been compared to the Dr Seuss character – despite not know anything about the mean-tempered creature until a colleague showed him a Wikipedia description.

The teaching assistant later complained about the audience laughing at him as he collected his trophy, but a tribunal rejected his claim, saying the reception he received was no different to the other winners.

His claims of direct discrimination and harassment related to his religion were dismissed.

Mr Toughfar, a practising Muslim from Morocco, began working at The Grove School in north London in April 2020, an employment tribunal was told.

The Search Education Trust-run school is a specialist free school for students aged five to 19 with a primary diagnosis of autism, and is “diverse”, with pupils and staff from all backgrounds, the Watford tribunal heard.

The learning support assistant, who still works at the school, told the tribunal he got involved in school Christmas activities like putting up decorations in class as part of his role, but would not have a Christmas dinner.

The tribunal heard that in December 2022, assistant head teacher Daniel McKay Wood began preparing a list of awards categories for the end-of-term awards, deciding on a Christmas theme.

Mr Toughfar, who was represented by his wife at the hearing, had previously received the Prankster Award, which he did not raise an issue about at the time, the tribunal was told.

After a Google search, the Christmas award categories included The Rudolph, Santa’s Little Helper, The Hardest Working Elf, The Abominable Snowman and The Christmas Grinch.

Mr McKay Wood, who is non-Christian, did not believe any of the awards had religious connotations, the tribunal heard.

He prepared an online ballot and invited staff to cast their votes.

Mr Toughfar received four votes for the Christmas Grinch award, while two other staff members each received three, the tribunal was told.

He told the tribunal he believed Mr McKay Wood had created his own voting deadline without telling anyone, so the award went to him because he is Muslim.

In a “light-hearted and jovial” award ceremony, Mr Toughfar was named the winner of the Christmas Grinch award, and went up to collect a miniature Oscar statue as a trophy, the tribunal was told.

He told the tribunal he did not know anything about the character, and asked a colleague who showed him pictures and a description on her phone, causing him to be “upset and distressed”.

He later held a meeting with a senior member of staff in which he handed back his trophy, and claimed the award amounted to bullying and discrimination, the tribunal heard.

In an email to a school HR manager, he said: “I have never known a workplace, let alone a school, who would give a member of staff such an unkind and inappropriate trophy.

“I do not understand how such a decision to give someone a trophy depicting this character could be permitted. This is essentially promoting bullying in front of the whole school staff and this is an act of bullying and discrimination.”

Judge Dilbaag Bansal said Mr Toughfar had “not put forward any evidence whatsoever that his being awarded the Christmas Grinch award was either because of or related to his religion”.

“The tribunal was satisfied that the reason why he received the Christmas Grinch award was because he had received the highest number of votes at the point the voting had closed.”

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