The State has been ordered to pay over $750,000 in compensation to four employees of the Ministry of Agriculture, Lands, and Fisheries, who were bypassed for promotion.
High Court Judge Ronnie Boodoosingh ordered the compensation for Vijay Singh, Rishi Singh, Sunil Ramnarine, and Marsha Sookoo in a judgment delivered at the Hall of Justice in Port-of-Spain, on Tuesday.
In their lawsuits, the four co-workers contended that their constitutional right to equality of treatment from a public authority was breached as the ministry had promoted their co-workers with the same degree in Resource, Recreation, and Tourism from the University of Idaho.
Vijay Singh's lawsuit was chosen to be the test case, that would determine the outcome of the others, but it was initially dismissed by Boodoosingh.
He appealed and his claim was eventually upheld by the Court of Appeal in June 2018.
In deciding the case, Appellate Judges Allan Mendonca, Peter Jamadar and Peter Rajkumar looked at the promotion of three of Singh's colleagues and questioned why he was treated differently. While they ruled that seniority may have been a factor, they said that should not have made him ineligible for promotion. "No acceptable explanation has been given for the failure to treat him similarly," Jamadar said. As part of the ruling, the judges ordered that Singh and by extension his colleagues receive compensation for his loss of opportunity at being promoted and for the inconvenience he suffered. In the second limb of his lawsuit, Singh was challenging the ministry's delay in determining whether his degree was recognised as equivalent to a degree in forestry, which was required for the post. While ministry stated it was not, in a letter to Singh in 2014, it also endeavoured to seek clarification on the issue from the Public Service Commission. The ministry was unable to give an answer even as the appeal was heard by the panel. The judges ruled that the ministry's delay was both unfair and unreasonable. They noted that in 2006, Singh applied to study at the University of Guyana but was told by the then Ministry of Science, Technology and Tertiary Education that his scholarship did not cover studies at that educational institution. His decision to study in the United States was based on the ministry's advice and because that institution was recognised by the Accreditation Council of T&T.
In assessing the compensation, Boodoosingh awarded the four co-workers a total of $350,000 for their loss of opportunity. The figure each received was based on when they should have been promoted and the salaries they would have received.
Boodoosingh also ordered that the State pay each employee $100,000 to vindicate their rights to equality of treatment.
The employees were represented by Anand Ramlogan, SC, Alvin Pariagsingh, and Alana Rambaran.
The ministry was represented by Coreen Findley and Jenna Gajadhar. Karlene Seenath, Daniella Boxhill, and Amrita Ramsook represented the Public Service Commission.