A prison officer has emerged victorious following an over decade-long legal battle with the Public Service Commission (PSC) over being declared to have abandoned her job after missing work for several months due to injury and pregnancy.
Delivering a written judgement in an appeal brought by the commission late last week, Appellate Judges Alice Yorke-Soo Hon, Nolan Bereaux and Mira Dean-Armorer ruled that the commission acted irrationally and unfairly in its handling of Favianna Gajadhar’s case.
According to the evidence, Gajadhar, who joined the T&T Prison Service in 2000, suffered a back injury and was absent from duty for extended periods between 2004 and 2006. Gajadhar also got pregnant during the period and sought to resume her duties three months after her daughter was born in June 2006. However, she was barred by her supervisor, who indicated that she could not resume duties because she had not properly accounted for the periods of her absence.
While Gajadhar claimed that she submitted her sick-leave and maternity leave certificates, the commission still declared she had effectively resigned from her post, effective June 2007, as she was absent without leave between April 2006 to then.
Gajadhar filed a judicial review case against the commission, which was upheld by the High Court and Court of Appeal, who ordered the commission to reconsider.
The commission reconsidered the issue in November 2017 and stood by its initial decision, albeit for a different reason, an issue with Gajadhar’s maternity leave application. Gajadhar brought another lawsuit against the second decision, which was also upheld leading to the current appeal.
In the appeal, the Court of Appeal ruled that the PSC could not maintain its position on new grounds without allowing Gajadhar to respond to it.
“It seems to us that there could be no counter-argument that the changing of reasons by a decision-maker, as a matter of principle, is unfair,” Dean-Armorer, who wrote the judgement, said.
The Appeal Court also sought to question the ground the PSC sought to rely on the second time around.
“The discrepancy was not only trivial but had been the result of the mistake of some unknown official at the Port-of-Spain General Hospital and of which rectification would have been impossible,” Dean-Armorer said.
“A decision to terminate Ms Gajadhar’s employment for such a discrepancy is one which no reasonable Commission would make,” she added.
Despite its ruling in the case, the appeal panel ruled that Gajadhar did not have a legitimate expectation that she would be automatically reinstated after succeeding in her lawsuit and appeal. That decision means that the PSC will now have to reconsider her case for a third time based on the guidelines issued by the panel.
The PSC was represented by Ian Benjamin, SC and Keisha Prosper. Gajadhar was represented by Anand Ramlogan, SC, Gerald Ramdeen, Renuka Rambhajan and Jared Jagroo.