The Equal Opportunity Tribunal (EOT) and its chairman Donna Prowell-Raphael have lost their bid to have EOT lay-assessor Veera Bhajan’s lawsuit over being allegedly blocked from taking up her appointment put on hold pending their appeal over the judge assigned to preside over the case.
Delivering a written decision yesterday, Appellate Judge Malcolm Holdip refused the EOT and Prowell-Raphael’s application for a stay of the case.
In the substantive appeal, the EOT and Prowell-Raphael are challenging Justice Avason Quinlan-Williams’ decision to refuse their application to reverse her decision to grant Bhajan leave to pursue the lawsuit. They also claimed that Quinlan-Williams should recuse herself from the case. In the application, they claimed that Bhajan and her legal team did not disclose pertinent evidence central to the case.
They also claimed that the lawsuit was premature as the tribunal remains inoperable due to the COVID-19 pandemic and financing issues. After hearing the submissions, last month, Quinlan-Williams agreed with Bhajan and the AG’s Office and ruled that both issues would be dealt with simultaneously in the substantive case.
According to her court filings, obtained by Guardian Media, the issue arose after Bhajan received her appointment from president Paula-Mae Weekes on March 17.
Bhajan claimed that she made numerous attempts to contact the tribunal in order to take up her appointment before Prowell-Raphael responded on May 19.
In the correspondence, Prowell-Raphael claimed that her services were not required as the tribunal did not have the “financial wherewithal” to accommodate a second lay-assessor and that the tribunal’s current workflow did not require it. Prowell-Raphael also accused Bhajan of using improper channels to enquire about her position.
In a legal opinion issued by the tribunal’s legal research officer Mintri Beharrylal on August 26, the tribunal claimed that the president was wrong to appoint Bhajan, as she (Bhajan) did not have sufficient qualifications for the post as required under the Equal Opportunity Act (EOA).
Beharrylal claimed that when Bhajan was first appointed, Prowell-Raphael informed the President that she (Bhajan) did not qualify for appointment as she did not have the prerequisite of 10 years experience as an attorney.
Through the lawsuit, Bhajan is seeking a series of declarations against the tribunal and Prowell-Raphael that they acted in excess of their jurisdiction and in abuse of their power. She is also seeking an order quashing the decision and another mandating that she take up the appointment.
Bhajan, who is claiming that she quit her law practice to take up her appointment, is also seeking compensation for the monthly remuneration she was supposed to receive after being appointed.
Bhajan, who was born without arms, was awarded the Hummingbird Medal (Silver) in 2011.
She is being represented by Alvin Fitzpatrick, SC, Rajiv Persad, Michael Rooplal, Rajiv Chaitoo, Shari Fitzpatrick, and Gabriel Hernandez. The EOT and its chairman are being represented by Ramesh Lawrence Maharaj, SC, Leon Kalicharan, Kiel Taklalsingh, and Karina Singh. The AG’s Office is being represented by Rishi Dass, Tenille Ramkissoon, Svetlana Dass, and Karissa Singh.