The Trinidad Guardian / Educational Facilities Company Limited (EFCL) is appealing the decision of a High Court Judge to award over $1 million in compensation to a former manager who sued the State-owned special purpose company for wrongful dismissal.
While the appeal is still pending, High Court judge Margaret Mohammed last week gave her written reasons for the decision to rule in favour of Ria Narinesingh, EFCL’s former divisional manager of its Finance and Corporate Services department, in an oral judgment on June 1.
Mohammed’s decision centred around the fact that EFCL’s lawyers failed to tender any evidence in defence of its move to terminate Narinesingh’s employment, almost two years ago.
“The Court found that there was no doubt that the respondent’s behaviour was oppressive, high-handed and reprehensible; the respondent’s misconduct was deliberate and it entailed the concurrence and complicity of employees of a senior rank,” Mohammed said in the 29-page judgment.
Narinesingh was hired on contract by the company in September 2012 and received several extensions, the last being for a three year period, starting October 2014.
In September 2016, a new board was appointed to manage the company and it commissioned an independent forensic audit into alleged financial impropriety in the company.
While the audit was ongoing in January 2016, Narinesingh was sent on administrative leave.
She claimed that she was never informed of details of the audit and whether it concerned her performance.
Four months later she was informed that two disciplinary charges, which allegedly arose after the audit, were brought against her.
She was accused of failing to act in the best interest of the company by splitting contract values to avoid board approval and by allocating funds due to certain contractors to others, without approval.
Although Narinesingh made several requests through her attorney for more information on the audit and the allegations against her, none was provided.
The disciplinary tribunal was adjourned several times as Narinesingh refused to participate and she was eventually served with her dismissal letter in June 2016.
In defence of the case, EFCL claimed that it acted fairly and in keeping with good industrial relations in dismissing Narinesingh. It contended that it was not required to disclose details of the audit to her and that she did not need the requested information to mount a defence to the disciplinary charges.
As part of her judgment, Mohammed ordered EFCL to pay Narinesingh $623,445, which represents her salary and benefits under the remainder of her contract.
She also awarded $100,000 for damage to her professional reputation. Narinesingh had claimed that she had difficulties in finding employment after details of her termination were published in a newspaper report.
Mohammed ordered a further $100,000 in exemplary damages for the company’s conduct in terminating Narinesingh. EFCL was also ordered to pay the $97,758.35 legal costs she incurred for bringing the lawsuit.
Narinesingh is being represented by Lesly Ann Lucky-Samaroo and Niala Narine.