Teacher sacked after mocking parents' accents loses tribunal

A primary school teacher who was sacked after mocking parents’ Asian accents and Terbaik Sumatera calling colleagues ‘fat sl**s’ has had her unfair dismissal and age discrimination claim thrown out by an employment judge.

‘Bully’ Iqbal Khanem hurled racist and homophobic insults at fellow members of staff at New Christ Church Primary School in Reading, Berkshire, branding them ‘bloody lesbians’.

Miss Khanem — who the tribunal heard was of Asian origin herself — also mocked Asian parents by mimicking their accents, a tribunal heard.

The experienced teacher, who taught children as young as five, also left pupils in their ‘soiled’ clothes for 45 minutes and let one cry unattended for 20 minutes.

Miss Khanem, who was also said to have made a child change their clothes in front of the rest of the class, claimed she was subject to a ‘witch hunt’ when she was subjected to disciplinary proceedings.

She insisted her derogatory language towards staff was just ‘light-hearted banter’ and said her strict style of teaching was acceptable even if not ‘fashionable’. 

She was sacked for gross misconduct in May 2019, but appealed the decision, saying the disciplinary process was a ‘character assassination’ and ‘smokescreen’ for the real reason for her dismissal — the cost of her salary.

Miss Khanem tried to sue the school for age discrimination by claiming bosses targeted her because she is over 50 and on an expensive salary. 

But an employment tribunal in Reading threw out her case and criticised her behaviour. 

Teacher Iqbal Khanem was sacked from New Christ Church Primary School in Reading (pictured) in 2019 after hurling racist and homophobic insults at fellow members of staff

Teacher Iqbal Khanem was sacked from New Christ Church Primary School in Reading (pictured) in 2019 after hurling racist and homophobic insults at fellow members of staff

The tribunal heard Miss Khanem worked at the school from February 2014 until her dismissal in May 2019, when she was teaching a year one class of children aged between five and six.

In November 2016, it was alleged Miss Khanem made a child ‘get changed into different clothes in front of the rest of the class’ and she received complaints she was ‘sarcastic’, ‘very negative’ and ‘rude’ with pupils.

She was taken through a disciplinary process which culminated in a six-month verbal warning and a referral to the Local Authority Designated Officer (LADO).

After an inspection in 2018, inspection officers raised concerns of ‘neglect’ after Miss Khanem left a new starter child crying ‘loudly and uncontrollably’ for a period of ‘at least 20 minutes’.

That same month the tribunal was told another child in Miss Khanem’s class wore soiled clothes for at least 45 minutes, leading to a second LADO referral.

The following month a parent complained their child had ‘wet themselves’ in class the day before and arrived home having not been changed, with the young girl saying Miss Khanem had not allowed her to go to the toilet.

Miss Khanem became ‘angry’ and ‘defensive’ and accused the child of lying and ‘attention seeking’, later confronting the girl to quiz her over why she had ‘lied’ to her parents.

A teaching assistant told the tribunal the child was ‘completely scared’, ‘extremely upset’ and in tears when she was excluded from an entire ‘Golden Time’ — an hour-long ‘free-play’ session.

These incidents led to Miss Khanem’s third LADO referral — referrals which were understood by the tribunal to be ‘rare’.

Upon the third LADO referral a disciplinary process began, during which further allegations of discriminatory language used against colleagues were made.

The tribunal was told various members of staff suggested Miss Khanem had acted in a way that was ‘racist, homophobic and derogatory’ and could be viewed as ‘bullying’.

This included Miss Khanem referring to a colleague as a ‘lesbian’ and saying ‘bloody lesbians’, as well as regularly using the term ‘fat sl**s’.  

Miss Khanem argued teachers over 50 were ‘targeted’ once an academy has taken over a school, as it was cheaper to hire newly qualified teachers who receive lesser salaries.

Her appeal was unsuccessful.

Rejecting her claims of unfair dismissal and age discrimination, Employment Judge Rebecca Eeley ruled Miss Khanem’s age had had nothing to do with the decision to sack her.

She said: ‘Miss Khanem seemed to think that academies often used capability procedures to manage older teachers out of employment.Miss Khanem’s dismissal was not because of age.

‘The dismissal was, on the evidence we have heard, solely because of her conduct (which formed the basis of the disciplinary case against her).

‘Miss Khanem’s age was not an effective cause of the dismissal.It was not a material factor. It made no contribution to the decision.

‘There was clear evidence of her mocking Asian accents by imitation. She imitated/mocked the children’s parents. The fact that Miss Khanem is herself of Asian origin is irrelevant; it is still unacceptable behaviour.

‘She [also] accepted that she referred to ‘fat sl**s’.This was yet another derogatory term. It was alleged that she used it regularly.

‘At the very least Miss Khanem should have realised that her comments were derogatory and would be viewed as such.

‘The real reason for dismissal was the evidence collected in the disciplinary process.Age had nothing whatsoever to do with it.’

The judge added: ‘It is apparent to the tribunal that she would be likely to behave [towards children] in the same way again in the future. She believes that this is her style of teaching and that it is legitimate even if it is not currently fashionable.’

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