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Fired Angostura executive asked for $8M settlement

Published: 
Sunday, December 3, 2017
Ramesh Lawrence Maharaj, SC, during his press conference at his San Fernando Chambers yesterday.

Give me $8 million and I will walk. That was the offer made to Angostura Holdings Limited by the female executive who made allegations of sexual harassment against the company's chairman, Dr Rolph Balgobin, in November 2016.

The executive, through her attorneys, had offered to resign by year’s end once she was paid the sum. She alleged that based on the remuneration package in her contract she would have been entitled to approximately $14 million, but because of the alleged reprisals against her she was prepared to accept the smaller sum so she would not have to go to court and pay legal fees.

She agreed to maintain confidentiality on the circumstances of her resignation and terms of her agreement with the company. However, just over one month later her offer of resignation was rejected and instead she was fired.

She was served with a termination letter dated November 29. That letter, obtained by the Sunday Guardian, was signed by Angostura's chief executive officer Genevieve Jodhan. It detailed five major points.

In one of the points, Jodhan stated, “Despite repeated feedback and performance coaching, there has been no improvement in your performance.

“The company therefore finds (1) that your actions and omissions amount to serious misconduct; and (2) that you have demonstrated gross incompetence. As a consequence, the company has lost trust and confidence in you and/or your ability to perform effectively in your position.”

In another document obtained by the Sunday Guardian, dated October 20, 2017 and signed by Ronnie Bissessar, junior counsel acting on behalf of Ramesh Lawrence Maharaj, SC, Angostura was advised that "the whistleblower (referring to the former female executive) is entitled to the sum of $13,759,770." That figure incorporated diminution in future income and benefits; loss of reputation/mental and emotional trauma, and severance benefits. According to the letter, the executive "continues to suffer catastrophic and irrevocable damage to her mental and emotional state,” her “physical health has declined and she has received counselling and medication but the general consensus is that her health and mental well-being will continue to worsen.” She would also be required to restart her professional life elsewhere.

Bissessar stated that the executive, in the interest of an early and favourable settlement, "is prepared to accept the sum of $8 million as a resignation payment."

He further said she was prepared to resign from her position with effect from December 31, 2017, upon the execution of a release discharge and compromise agreement, which provides that she will not make any public statement touching upon or concerning her resignation and the reasons thereof, or, in relation to her employment relationship with Angostura, its chairman, directors or officers which are critical, adverse or derogatory or which may be detrimental to Angostura's interest or the interests of its shareholders, subsidiaries, affiliates or holding company, its clients, employees, consultants, directors and/or officers.

The proposal

She proposed to:

• Not institute any civil proceedings against Angostura Limited and Dr Balgobin;

• Maintain the confidentiality of the circumstances of her resignation and the terms of her agreement;

• Not require Angostura Limited and Dr Balgobin to admit liability whatsoever for any wrongdoing;

•Tender her resignation which will be accepted by Angostura;

• Receive a written testimonial from Angostura;

• Receive an undertaking that Angostura and/or its directors and/or officers (including Dr Balgobin) and/or its affiliates, subsidiaries or holding company shall not institute any proceedings in the High Court, Industrial Court or any fora against the whistleblower touching and/or concerning her or her employment whatsoever;

• Receive an undertaking that Angostura and/or its directors and/or officers (including Dr Balgobin) and/or its affiliates, subsidiaries or holding company shall procure the written agreement of the whistleblower's counsels on the contents of any public notices to be issued and/or published and/or otherwise disseminate by Angostura in relation to:

a) the whistleblower's resignation; and

b) any settlement with the whistleblower

A letter dated November 29 from J D Sellier and Company’s Marcelle Ferdinand, acting on behalf of Angostura, said the decision to fire the executive was “borne out by the audit reports provided to our client. As a consequence of your client’s actions and omissions, our client has suffered loss and damage.

“On the basis of counsel’s advice we have issued a termination letter to your client effective today (November 29)…our client is firmly of the view that there is no basis upon which to pay your client any sums apart from that to which she is entitled upon termination, namely accrued vacation leave and salary up to the date of termination,” Ferdinand added.

The executive had been promoted on August 1, 2016, and her promotional prospects seemed “extremely favourable,” however, the company informed her of its decision to terminate her employment on the grounds that she demonstrated gross incompetence, a lack of judgement and initiative and has failed to properly discharge her duties.

Last week, Maharaj and Bissessar said they planned to take legal action against Angostura and its directors.

Maharaj: Client committed to going the distance

When contacted for a comment yesterday, Maharaj said his client "is entitled to make an offer to have the matter settled instead of taking on the pressures of litigation. This is happening every day. Since Angostura has taken this action against her she is committed to going the whole distance."

The former female executive told the Sunday Guardian last evening that she had no comment as it was a very "painful" situation.

The matter

•August 1, 2016—The former female executive was promoted to a senior position in Angostura Limited after it was made clear by the company that she was never a subject of disciplinary action or adverse report and promotional prospects extremely favourable.

•November 3, 2016—Allegations of sexual harassment made against Angostura Limited’s chairman, Dr Rolph Balgobin, by the senior female executive surfaced. The allegations were contained in a whistleblower complaint submitted to the board.

•In September 2017—Dr Rolph Balgobin was cleared of sexual harassment allegations in a report done by Justice Rolston Nelson. It was reported that Nelson said the complaint should be dismissed, but having not interviewed Balgobin or the former executive he could not make a finding that it was made in bad faith.

•October 20, 2017—In a signed letter by Ronnie Bissessar, junior counsel acting on behalf of Ramesh Lawrence-Maharaj, SC and instructing attorney Varin Gopaul-Gosine, it was advised that the female executive’s resignation payment be in the sum of $13,759,770. She agreed to settle for $8 million.

•October 26 2017—Angostura Limited’s board of directors, after an internal investigation, dismissed allegations of sexual harassment made against chairman Dr Rolph Balgobin by a senior female executive.

•November 29, 2017—The female executive was given a termination letter signed by Angostura’s chief executive officer, Genevieve Jodhan.

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