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Lewis weighs legal options

Published: 
Wednesday, October 11, 2017
Acting Port CEO shocked at email firing
Charmaine Lewis

Charmaine Lewis will be filing a legal challenge against the Port Authority of T&T for she says is her “wrongful dismissal” as acting CEO/GM, admitting she was “shocked” at the move.

The dismissal letter was emailed to Lewis hours after she left office after returning from vacation Monday and she saw it sometime “between 10.30 and 11 pm.” It was signed by PATT board chairman Allison Lewis.

Charmaine Lewis admitted to being “shocked” when she read the email, which indicated the board had lost “all trust and confidence” in her ability to perform the duties of acting general manager/CEO and as a consequence decided to terminate her employment immediately.

In the letter, Lewis was told to surrender all Port property in her possession, including “but not limited to office keys, credit card(s), cellphone, access cards and documents.”

In the letter, she was accused of refusing to proceed on vacation leave as directed by the board and of deleting emails sent and received during the period January to July 2017, which were critical to an ongoing forensic investigation into the Port’s operations being conducted by PriceWaterhouseCoopers.

But Lewis challenged this yesterday.

“I saw some of the emails yesterday (Monday), it is on my desktop. The emails are archived right there. The emails go back to 2009, all are thee properly labelled, so I find it passing strange they will say I deleted emails, everything is there,” she told the T&T Guardian in reference to the findings of the PWC forensic report.

The letter also cited various issues/incidents the board has had with her over the last six months and issues discussed with her when she returned to work on Monday.

Lewis said she was concerned that “due process” was not followed, noting “usually there is progressive disciplinary action, verbal, written and so on,” which did not happen.

Lewis said she felt as if she was “in a witness box on Monday” when she was called to a meeting with the chairman and a board commissioner, an attorney who was linked to the seizure of her computer last week.

“There were points in the questioning, she said, “when I had to tell him (name called) he is behaving as though he is prosecuting a case in a witness box. I had to tell him I don’t like the way he is speaking to me.

“The chairman sat and allowed him to interrogate me in a fashion equivalent to how a lawyer will behave to a person in a court of law. She never intervened.”

But she is not taking her dismissal lightly. She said she had served more than 30 years in various capacities and this was “the first time I am being accused of sub-standard performance. I will be pursuing my legal options.”

At Monday’s meeting, she said she was questioned about her statements to the media after her office was ‘broken into’ while she was on vacation and her computer seized.

She said they had an issue with her speaking to the media about the incident, since those comments had brought the Port into disrepute.

During the meeting, Lewis said she was told by the chairman and the commissioner “they had lost confidence in me.” She said she was told in the six months since the board was in office “they found my performance to be sub-standard. I said to the chairman that is strange because nobody had spoken to me about that.” She said she asked for one example of “substandard performance and the commissioner said nothing came to mind.”

Lewis said she was asked to respond to the concerns raised and went to her office to do so. However, soon after, as she was in her office with her daughter and two managers, the Port commissioner arrive with Port secretary Marcia Charles-Elbourne. Lewis asked her daughters and the managers to leave.

She said she was told she should go on immediate leave. She challenged this but was told “it is a board directive, you are to pack up your belongings and leave the premises right away.”

“They asked me to take all my accumulated leave, above 114 days, citing an HR policy,” she said.

Lewis said with the help of her daughters and the managers, she packed up her belongings and loaded them into her car and left.

Contacted yesterday, Works and Transport Minister Rohan Sinanan said the dismissal was an “operational issue” and referred all questions to the Port Authority board.

Port chairman Alison Lewis declined comment at this time.

But in a release last night, the PATT confirmed Lewis’ termination. However, it said her appearance before the JSC had nothing to do with the termination.

It added that Trudy Gill-Conlon will now assume her duties and the board will now advertise for the position of GM/CEO.

CHARMAINE LEWIS’ RECORD AT PATT

1989: Joined Port Authority of T&T as general ledger clerk
1992: Promoted to auditing assistant
1993: Promoted to assistant accountant
1995: Appointed accountant
2004: Elevated to divisional manager
2011: Appointed executive manager Finance and Administration
2014: Given double portfolio of general manager and CEO of the Port’s Infrastructural Company.
2015: Appointed deputy general manager
2017: Given dual roles of acting GM/CEO of the Port and Posinco.