Geeta Sahatoo v Ministry of Labour and Small and Micro Enterprises Development

JurisdictionTrinidad & Tobago
JudgeMr. Rajmanlal Joseph,Ms. Leela Ramdeen,Mr. Harridath Maharaj
Judgment Date31 July 2017
Docket NumberE.O.T. No. 0004 of 2013
CourtEqual Opportunity Tribunal (Trinidad and Tobago)
Geeta Sahatoo
Ministry of Labour and Small and Micro Enterprises Development

His Honour Mr. Rajmanlal Joseph — Judge/Chairman

Her Honour Ms. Leela Ramdeen — Lay Assessor

His Honour Mr. Harridath Maharaj — Lay Assessor

E.O.T. No. 0004 of 2013


(Referred pursuant to S. 39(2) of the Equal Opportunity Act 2000 as amended by Act No. 5 of 2001)


Mr Clifford Sukhai appeared on behalf of the Complainant

Ms Leah Thompston appeared on behalf of the Respondent


This case is concerned primarily with the allegation by the Complainant that she was discriminated against by the Respondent in the way that it offered her access to opportunities for promotion and training in breach of Section 9 of the Equal Opportunity Act, Chap. 22:03.


In addition, in accordance with her Complaint and Particulars thereof filed on March 28, 2014 she requested a declaration that she was victimised contrary to Section 6 of the Equal Opportunity Act, Chap. 22:03 (the Act) and further that the Respondent has discriminated against her in breach of Section 5 of the Act.


Moreover, it is the further case of the Complainant that the Respondent Ministry deliberately omitted or refused to forward to the Director of Personnel Administration ( DPA) recommendations for the Complainant to obtain acting appointments while ensuring that recommendations for the acting appointments of other officers of a different race or ethnicity were made in a timely manner.


On the other hand, the Respondent by its Defence filed on June 18, 2014 denied that the Respondent had engaged in any less favourable treatment against the Complainant; and/or engaged in any acts of victimization against the Complainant.


With regard to their respective positions hereinabove the parties submitted the undermentioned Witness Statements:

  • (a) Witness Statement of the Complainant filed on August 15, 2014.

  • (b) Supplemental Witness Statement of the Complainant filed on April 9, 2015.

  • (c) Witness Statement of Michael Gordon filed on August 15, 2014.

  • (d) Witness Statement of Stephen Thomas filed on August 15, 2014.

  • (e) Witness Statement of Carl Francis August 15, 2014.

  • (f) Witness Statement of Dalkeith Ali filed on August 15, 2014.

  • (g) Witness Statement of Karyl Adams filed on August 15, 2014.

  • (h) Witness Statement of Charles Mitchell filed on August 15, 2014.


In essence, the evidence of the Complainant was that she commenced her employment in the Public Service in 1973; and was appointed Co-operative Officer I in 1978 and was later promoted to Co-operative Officer I and II respectively.


It is the contention of the Complainant that difficulties with Mr. Mitchell and Ms. Rouff arose in 2006 when Mr. Mitchell then Co-operative Officer III was appointed to act in the post of Deputy Commissioner; and Ms. Rouff then also Co-operative Officer III was appointed to act as Training Officer. The Complainant further asserted that both persons were not qualified to hold these positions as they did not have the necessary minimum qualifications. In Mr. Mitchell's case the minimum requirement was a recognized university degree, and in the case of Ms. Rouff the minimum requirement being an associate degree or diploma in co-operative studies.


It was also during this time (2006) that the posts of Commissioner, Deputy Commissioner and Training Officer became vacant. And as a consequence the then DPA issued a Circular Memorandum dated April 10, 2006 seeking applications for the posts of Commissioner and Deputy Commissioner; and setting out the minimum qualifications for said positions, both of which required at least eight (8) years experience in Co-operative Development as well as well as a recognized degree in Management, Economics or Accounting supplemented by a suitable course in Co-operatives; or any equivalent combination of experience and training.


The Complainant further maintained that from the moment the posts of Commissioner and Deputy Commission became vacant she began experiencing problems in the Co-operative Development Division as a result of the concerted efforts of Mr. Mitchell and Ms. Rouff to disparage and discredit here professionally. The Complaint cited a memorandum dated July 10, 2006 wherein Mr. Mitchell was seeking to impute improper motives in a submission for payment concerning materials used in the Pt. Coco Project. Consequently, the Complainant wrote a memorandum dated July 17, 2006 to the Permanent Secretary indicating that Mr. Mitchell was doing everything to frustrate the project. And requested the Permanent Secretary to investigate all the areas identified, and sought an apology from Mr. Mitchell for imputing improper motives on her part.


As a result, the Permanent Secretary — Mr. Carl Francis — wrote a memorandum dated August 3, 2006 to the Complainant in which he stated that “I have investigated the issues raised in your correspondence”, and proceed to accuse her of disrespect for instruction from supervisors; that many of her claims/accusations lacked substance and that she change her manner of interaction with colleagues and other officials; and “a failure to do so may result in action in the future that may not be in your career interest.


Furthermore, the Complainant stated that when Mr. Mitchell prepared her 2006 performance appraisal, it was in her words “decidedly negative advising, inter alia, that she had an inferiority complex and lacked interpersonal skills and was not ready for promotion”. The Complainant indicated that the proper procedure in doing the appraisal was inconsistent with Regulations 34 and 35 of the Public Service Commission Regulations, Chap. 1:01 as well as the Manual of Performance Management in the Public Service.


Moreover, the Complainant went on to outline other egregious memoranda by Mr. Mitchell concerning her conduct; and that this type of action was continued by Ms. Rouff in the preparation of her 2007 Performance Appraisal in which she alleged that Ms. Rouff stated “that she lacked interpersonal skills, was not ready for promotion and needed remedial training to redress her interaction with members of staff and external publics”. According to the Complainant the appraisal was not signed by the Permanent Secretary and it contained the wrong appraisal standards in that is contained the appraisal standards for the post of Co-operative Officer III and not for the post of Training Officer in which she was acting.


The Complainant further maintained that the 2007 appraisal done by Ms. Rouff was in breach of the requirements of Regulations 34 and 35 of the PSC Regulations, Chap. 1:01 as well as the Manual for Performance Management in the Public Service. The Complainant further asserted that even though she complained about the breaches of the law and the manner in which her 2007 appraisal was done, no effort was made to address her concerns. And Ms. Rouff sent her 2007 appraisal directly to the Director of Personnel Administration without the signature of the Permanent Secretary.


Further, the Complainant indicated that Ms. Rouff sent a five page memorandum dated July 11, 2008 to the Permanent Secretary making a number of “spurious and unfounded” allegations including making racist statements against a certain member of staff of African origin. On September 18, 2008 the Complainant “comprehensively responded to all of the allegations made by Mr. Rouff annexing thereto complete documentary proof refuting each of the allegations made. The Permanent Secretary made no effort to investigate the matter”. This the Complainant contended remained an open issue which seriously affected her career prospects.


In addition, the Complainant averred that while Mr. Mitchell, Ms. Rouff and Mr. Thomas were given acting in higher positions even though they were not qualified, since none of them had a recognized university degree in management, Economics or Accounting, While she was in possession of a Master's in Business Administration from the Arthur Lok Jack School of Graduate Studies (T&T) since 1998; in addition to having the requisite experience in the field of Co-operative Development.


Further, it is the contention of the Complainant that when she attended her first interview for the post of Commissioner of Co-operative Development the negative markings in her earlier appraisal was mentioned.


The complainant was extensively cross-examined by counsel for the Respondent and based on her responses to searching questions the Tribunal found her to be generally a credible witness.


The Witness Statements of the Respondent witnesses on the other hand tended to convey the distinct impression that the Complainant was a person who was difficult to get along with and lacked interpersonal skills.


Mr. Carl Francis then Permanent Secretary of the Respondent indicated that the recall writing to the Complainant concerning the Point Coco Project in which he “was advised by her superiors of delays and inadequate structural work that led to leakages and other inefficiencies. In addition there were frequent complaints from the superior colleagues in the department and her colleagues in other departments about the Complainant's very aggressive manner”.


He further stated that based on his professional assessment of the Complainant “she had a demeanor and attitude which would have resulted in chaos if she ran any Department as its head. There was no question about the Complainant's qualifications for the different jobs. However, the Complainant was not able to get along with other persons easily”.


This witness rejected any notion of racial discrimination or victimization against the Complainant. He further maintained that he never threaten the Complainant's career prospects. His recollection was that time lines on...

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