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Aug 30, 2016

Former Open Vote Worker Wins Case in Court over Termination

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. Correspondent Aaron Humes attended the judgment and has this report.


Aaron Humes, Reporting

Following the ninety-minute oral ruling, in court, Melissa Belezaire Tucker, members of her family and her attorney, Senior Counsel Magali Marin-Young, quietly embraced following what appears to be vindication of her position that she should have been confirmed in the post from which she was terminated three years ago. Had she been, it might have resulted in a different experience when she faced that termination. Tucker told us that all things considered, it was a learning experience.


Melissa Belezaire-Tucker

Melissa Belezaire-Tucker, Won Case

“I would not classify it as painful; I will say that it was a situation that really taught me about who I am, and who was I was standing to be, and who I am for many other women, and not only women; any human who find themselves in a situation. So it was not painful; it was a learning experience for me. Life gave me an opportunity to take a stand, and I took the stand, and I learned along the way.”


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


Magali-Marin Young

Magali-Marin Young, Attorney

“And in this particular case the court found that the repeated failure to refer her name for purposes of appointment to this established post, in fact breached her fundamental rights and in particular breached her right to protection of the law. As you will recall this morning, when Justice Griffith was giving her reasons, she went into great detail to say that the breach of protection of the law can take place by acts and omissions, and in this particular case it was the 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

“The court did not find it necessary to go on to make a determination; but it did give as she described, a “pithy analysis,” of the facts that led to her termination, and she did find that it was unreasonable on the basis of terminating her on the basis of not putting in her report within the time specified when her attorney had requested an extension, a one-week extension. But leading up to that unlawful termination, the reason we got into all the arguments of open vote workers, and the fact that she was not ultimately appointed by the Public Service Commission, is because had she been appointed as 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 C.E.O., the Chief Executive officer. Had she been appointed as a public officer by the Public Service Commission, then disciplinary proceedings would have had to be done by the Public Service Commission and not by 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-Tucker

“He said to me when I began this case – he said to me, “They’ve taken away the job, so that you can do the work.” They’ve taken away the job, so that you can do the work. It was work with myself, work with what I wanted to contribute to humanity. So the job was, in a sense, not very important. Yes, I enjoy contributing to my community, and I have a passion for children. But I did not need that job, to do that. It was only a vehicle.”


Aaron Humes reporting for News Five.


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.

Viewers please note: This Internet newscast is a verbatim transcript of our evening television newscast. Where speakers use Kriol, we attempt to faithfully reproduce the quotes using a standard spelling system.

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