By Aaron Humes: 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.
Tucker told us that all things considered, it was a learning experience. She thanks her family and in particular one special influence for why she pursued the case to the end – her late uncle, Ambassador Adalbert “Bert” Tucker.
Belezaire Tucker’s attorney, Senior Counsel Magali Marin-Young, says the Government was at fault here for what it did not do.
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.
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.
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. Acting Solicitor General Nigel Hawke represented the Government at trial. According to Tucker, she plans to find work with non-governmental organizations.
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