Ex-open vote worker lost protection thanks to Government foot-dragging, Court rules

In February of this year, the Supreme Court heard the case of Melissa Belezaire Tucker, a former Ministry of Education employee who served in the Public Service for seventeen years, from 1995 to 2013, when she was terminated. Tucker was first appointed as a teacher and then, in 1999, as the School Feeding and Health Coordinator. But she was never confirmed in the post despite recommendations to do so from her bosses to the Public Service Commission and approval from the Ministry of Finance as far back as 2006. Today, Supreme Court Justice Shona Griffith found that that failure by Government authorities constitutes a material breach of Tucker’s right under the Constitution to equal protection by the law. She is now entitled to certain damages but will not get her job back. Tucker told us that all things considered, it was a learning experience:

Melissa Belezaire, Former Ministry of Education Employee;

He said to me when I begin this case, He said to me; they have taken away the job so you could do the work. It was work with myself, work looking at what I wanted to contribute to humanity so the job was in this sense not very important. Yes, I enjoyed contribution to my community and I have a passion for children but I did not need that job to that. It was only a vehicle.

Marin-Young says the Government was at fault here for what it did not do:

Magali Marin Young, Attorney;

In this particular case the court found that the repeated failure to refer her name for purposes of appointment to this established post did infact breached her fundamental rights and in particular breached her rights to protection of the law. As you would recall this morning when Justice Griffith was giving his reason she went into break detail to say that breach of protection of the law can take place both by acts and omissions and in this particular case it was a repeated omissions.

Because the material breach so infected the course of Belezaire-Tucker’s employment, Marin-Young says the court did not need to make a determination on whether her client was wrongfully terminated, because she was never properly appointed:

Magali Marin Young, Attorney;

vlcsnap-2016-08-31-10h50m14s179The court did not find it necessary to go on to make a determination but it did gave as she described a brief analysis of the facts that led to her termination. She did find that it was unreasonable terminating her on the basis of not having a report within the time specified when her attorney had requested extension, a one week extension. But leading up to that unlawful termination the reason why we got into argument of all open vote workers and the fact that she was not appointed ultimately by the public service commission is because; had she been appointed a public officer by the public service commission the whole termination process would have been very different than she was terminated because in this particular case she was terminated as though she was an open vote worker by the CEO. Had she been appointed a public officer by the public service commission then disciplinary proceeding would have had to be done by the public service commission and not the Chief Education Officer.  

The case is not over yet; the parties will submit written submissions on damages by mid-September and the full judgment will be given by the end of September. Both compensatory and vindicatory damages are in play, and Madam Justice Griffith mentioned that she does not expect the final figure to be a “nominal” one. Costs will also be awarded in the proportion of ninety to ten percent to Belezaire-Tucker. Melissa Belezaire-Tucker, in addition to thanking her family, mentioned one special influence for why she pursued the case to the end – her late uncle, Ambassador Adalbert “Bert” Tucker.

Melissa Belezaire, Former Ministry of Education Employee;

I would not classify it as painful. I would say it was an occupation that really taught me about who I am and who I wanted to be. I was not painful, it was a learning experience and life gave me an opportunity to take a stand and I took the stand and I learned along the way.

The court also upheld the constitutionality of the Open Vote Workers Regulations of 1992, finding them within the power of the Governor General to make as the person tasked with populating the Public Service. This had been the subject of a separate claim consolidated into the final case. The written submissions on damages are due by September sixteenth, and the final judgment by September twenty-seventh. Of the more than thirteen thousand public officers currently employed, about two thousand five hundred are open-vote workers. Deputy Solicitor General Nigel Hawke represented the Government at trial. According to Tucker, she plans to find work with non-governmental organizations.///

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