Jerlean John

Former Housing Development Corporation (HDC) managing director Jearlean John has appealed the dismissal of her $17 million unfair dismissal lawsuit against her former employer.

In her notice of appeal, which was filed late last week and obtained by Guardian Media, John’s lawyers raised seven grounds on which they believe High Court Judge Kevin Ramcharan made errors in finding that the board of the State-agency was entitled to dismiss her.

They are contending that in his judgment in early August, Ramcharan failed to properly assess the evidence presented at trial and did not provide sufficient reasons for his findings.

A date for the hearing of the appeal is yet to be set by the Appeal Court’s Registry.

According to the evidence, presented in the case, John and seven senior HDC employees were placed on administrative leave after a forensic audit was initiated by the board shortly after it was appointed in December 2015. While the audit was still ongoing, HDC Chairman Newman George and his fellow board members invited John to a meeting.

In their defence, the board members claimed that during the meeting on March 21, 2016, John was disrespectful to them and dismissed their concerns over the lease of two luxury vehicles. She was terminated the following day for her “reaction, demeanour, tone and manner of communicating with the board of directors”.

In her testimony, John denied that she was hostile towards the board members and claimed that she was ambushed in the meeting as her repeated attempts to obtain an agenda failed.

In his judgment summary, Ramcharan noted that while there were no minutes of the controversial meeting, George gave a more accurate account of what transpired.

While Ramcharan stated that her conduct was unfortunate and unjustifiable, he accepted that she would have been justified in feeling ambushed and blindsided and ruled that her conduct at the meeting was insufficient to warrant her dismissal.

However, he stated that her behaviour coupled with her previous conduct would have been considered by the board in making its decision.

“Everything must be taken in its proper context, and the reaction of the defendant to claimant’s conduct at the meeting would necessarily by influenced by her prior conduct,” Ramcharan said.

Although he said that he did not consider the audit results, he noted that the alleged infractions allegedly attributed to John would be insufficient to dismiss her.

Ramcharan said that even if she was wrongly dismissed she would not have been entitled to pursue the lawsuit in the form she did as her contract contained a clause allowing for termination, provided that there was three months’ notice.

Through her lawsuit, John was seeking $7.5 million in compensation for her “loss of future employment opportunities”, $5 million for damage to her reputation and $1.42 million for the eight and a half months, which she had left on her contract when she was terminated.

At the time, John’s monthly pay packet consisted of a $62,000 salary and $36,000 in allowances for travel, housing, communications, and entertainment.

John was also claiming that she is entitled to an additional 24 months salary as such a provision became a settled practice of the HDC, with respect to departing managing directors, since the tenure of former managing director Noel Garcia.

John contested the La Horquetta/Talparo constituency in the August 10 general election for the United National Congress (UNC) but lost to People’s National Movement (PNM) candidate Foster Cummings.

She has since been appointed an Opposition Senator.

John was represented by Gerald Ramdeen, Umesh Maharaj and Dayadai Harripaul. Russell Martineau, SC, Anthony Bullock and Marcelle Ferdinand represented the HDC.