Teacher racially abused by Scottish pupils loses discrimination case

Teacher with Pakistani ethnicity who sued school over claims bosses failed to stop pupils racially abusing her by using term ‘wagwan’ and putting on exaggerated Indian accents loses race discrimination tribunal

  • Children abused Rizwana Mallet-Ali by putting on exaggerated Indian accents 
  • She claimed pupils mocked her skin colour and greeted her saying ‘wagwan’ 
  • Ms Mallet-Ali tried to sue Bertha Park High School, in Perth, for ‘discrimination’ 
  • But her £20,000 legal claim was thrown out by an employment tribunal judge

A teacher of Pakistani descent who sued a school after claiming bosses failed to stop pupils from racially abusing her has lost her discrimination case. 

Rizwana Mallet-Ali, who is Scottish and speaks with a Scottish accent but has Pakistani ethnicity, was the target of racist abuse in her classroom by pupils who put on exaggerated Indian accents.

Children repeatedly addressed the home economics teacher using the Jamaican greeting term ‘wagwan’, an employment tribunal heard. 

After several incidents, Ms Mallet-Ali demanded that persistent offenders be excluded from Bertha Park High School in Perth, Scotland or face police action, as it amounted to ‘hate crime’.

But she was left fuming after school leaders instead chose to take a ‘restorative approach’ to each pupil by giving them ‘guidance’.

Rizwana Mallet-Ali tried to sue her former school, Bertha Park High School in Perth, Scotland, over claims she was racially abused by pupils 

Mother Ms Mallet-Ali went off sick with anxiety after the torrent of abuse and later resigned.

Black teacher wins £460,000 for racial discrimination after she was stripped of senior role and replaced with less-qualified white colleague


The experienced teacher of 14 years tried to sue the school at an employment tribunal, claiming its approach ‘was unsuccessful and not appropriate’ and rendered it ‘institutionally racist’.

But, she has now lost her £20,000 race discrimination claim as a judge ruled the school did not treat her any differently due to her race, believing they would have treated a white employee in the same way.

The tribunal in Dundee, Scotland, heard Ms Mallet-Ali began working at Bertha Park in February 2020 until she resigned in November 2021. 

The mother from Stirling reported six pupils over a total of eight incidents, it was heard.

A tribunal report said: ‘The first occasion was when Ms Mallet-Ali was present in the school in the autumn of 2020. A pupil addressed her using the word “wagwan”, which is a predominantly West Indian patois form of greeting.

‘Ms Mallet-Ali has no ethnic connection with that area or culture, and speaks with a Scottish accent.  

‘She considered the comment was racially motivated as she was the only non-white member of staff in the school. She said to the pupil that in the context it was a racist comment.

‘On April 19, 2021… A group of pupils who were friends began speaking with an Indian accent. One of the pupils was the individual who had used the “wagwan” greeting the previous autumn…She felt this was mocking her origins and skin colour.

Ms Mallet-Ali said children greeted her with ‘wagwan’ and mocked her skin colour – abuse which later prompted her to quit her job 

‘On 29 April 29, 2021, a pupil in her class repeated back something she had said but in an exaggerated Indian accent.

‘She took the pupil out of the class to explain that this was unacceptable.

‘The pupil appeared to understand, and was allowed to return to the class. He did the same thing again and was removed and spoken to by a guidance teacher. He was brought back to apologise.’

The tribunal heard incidents continued into May of 2021, with Ms Mallet-Ali being called ‘wagwan’ again and one pupil acting ‘aggressively’ to her.

The report added: ‘After each incident the school’s approach was to take the pupil out of the class and for there to be a conversation involving Ms Mallet-Ali, a guidance teacher, [headteacher Stuart] Clyde, or a combination of those individuals.

‘The school consciously takes what it calls a ‘restorative’ approach to pupil behaviour which breaches its expected standards.

‘Broadly, this involves having a discussion with a view to persuading the pupil to change their behaviour by understanding why it is not acceptable, rather than any more punitive steps.

‘This was the approach taken in response to Ms Mallet-Ali’s reported incidents.

‘As the number and frequency of reported incidents increased, Ms Mallet-Ali felt more strongly that the school was not doing enough to prevent them occurring or to otherwise protect her.

‘She wished the offending pupils to be excluded from her class. She also wanted the school to report the incidents to the police as hate crimes.’

She said Bertha Park High School (pictured) failed to deal with the abuse and tried to sue the Perth secondary for £20,000 claiming it was ‘institutionally racist’. But her discrimination claim was thrown out by a judge during an employment tribunal in Dundee, Scotland

It was heard the school was ‘reluctant’ to report it to the police but made contact and it was arranged that an officer would visit to give a talk to the pupils.

Ms Mallet-Ali remained unhappy and on May 26 2021 called police to report ‘potential hate crimes’ and went off sick.

She submitted a grievance about the school’s handling of her complaint and said she was too unwell to return to her job and that it would be ‘unsafe’.

She resigned in November 2021 before launching her legal case and asking for £20,000 in compensation.

At the tribunal, the panel said it accepted that pupils had behaved as she described, that they did so ‘because of her ethnicity’ and that this had the impact of making her ‘too unwell to work in the school’.

But she lost her claim as they ruled the school would have treated a white teacher who had suffered personal abuse about ‘an aspect of the teacher’s physical appearance, or a particular habit or mannerism they used, or their sexual orientation’ in the same way.

Employment Judge Brian Campbell said: ‘Ms Mallet-Ali clearly wished criminal proceedings to be initiated, and sanctions to be imposed by the school itself.

‘The school did not adopt that ethos. This was a general policy decision and not one chosen specifically in response to how it viewed her complaints.

‘The tribunal recognises that Ms Mallet-Ali sustained racially motivated verbal abuse from pupils on a number of occasions… and that this was distressing to her to the point that it impacted on her health.

‘However…the [school] did not treat her less favourably than it treated, or would have treated, a relevant comparator by reason of race. Her claim therefore must be dismissed.’

The tribunal stated Ms Mallet-Ali was ‘offered support’ throughout the incidents and the school acted within the ‘scope of its powers’.

MailOnline has approached Bertha Park for comment.  

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