Duke loses in court
By JADA LOUTOO Wednesday, August 29 2012
THREE SUSPENDED Public Services Association (PSA) members who were suspended last year by their president, Watson Duke, have emerged victorious in the courts; their positions having been reinstated.
Yesterday, Justice Joan Charles ruled in favour of the union’s acting Deputy General Secretary, Joanne Semper-Caprietta, and industrial relations officers, Yvonne de Peiza, and Paula Prescott, saying their respective suspensions were illegal.
In an oral ruling, Charles said the decision to suspend the three was ultra vires (outside the law) of the union’s Constitution, and went against the rules of natural justice.
Semper-Caprietta was suspended on August 10, 2011, for allegedly disobeying the president.
She challenged the decision, and since the cases of de Peiza and Prescott were of a similar nature, concerning the same points of law, the judge also ruled in their favour.
The judge’s written reasons will be made available tomorrow, when the parties return to court to deal with the issue of costs.
The judge also ruled that the three are to be paid all outstanding salaries, from the date of their suspensions.
All three are expected to return to their respective positions at the PSA today, and Duke has been warned not to obstruct the three from going about their duties.
At a media conference, the re-instated PSA executive members said they took no pleasure having to take their “beloved union” to court.
“But we had to,” they said.
Speaking with Newsday yesterday, Semper-Caprietta said she was relieved, but knew it was “only a matter of time” the issue would have been resolved in her favour.
“Because of standing up for the right thing, I was thrown out, assaulted and basically treated like an animal...just for doing the right thing,” she recalled.
Semper-Caprietta also had a few words of advice for some of her colleagues at the PSA whom she said supported the injustice meted out to her and her colleagues: “It is not too late to do the right thing.”
The legal battle is not over for Semper-Caprietta, however, as she had been expelled by the union’s disciplinary tribunal on July 4, the same day the judge was initially expected to give her ruling.
Semper-Caprietta said Duke wrote to the Ministry of Health, her substantive employers, informing them of her expulsion.
Her matter was taken to the Public Service Commission, where it was deemed that she had abandoned her post.
But she is not fazed.
She thanked her attorneys Farid Scoon and Thomas Cunningham, as well as her union comrade, Louis Tannis, who assisted her in paying her legal fees.
She also thanked those who supported her over the last year by assisting with her bills.
Now that the judge has ruled in favour of the suspended PSA members, it is likely to similarly impact on another case, also involving the suspension of five executives.
The other lawsuit surrounds the suspension of first vice-president Rosanna Robinson, general secretary, Oral Saunders, deputy general secretary, Rendy Bedasie, and trustees, Demetrius Harrison and Raymond Butler.
Saunders was suspended in April, 2010, while the others were suspended in July, 2010. The five were all suspended by president Watson Duke, who also rescinded their appointments on the union’s executive.
Yet another lawsuit, being heard by the same judge, is expected to go to trial in October in relation to a claim filed by Duke against the union’s executive preventing them from making any decisions on behalf of the association after the union’s Conference of Delegates took a decision to make Robinson, the new interim president.
Duke’s lawsuit also calls on the court to render null and void any decision taken by the executive members, who were suspended from the association.
Duke has been insisting that he is the president of the PSA, and has discounted claims by the executive that he was expelled.
The battle for the leadership of the PSA turned ugly in January, this year, when violence broke out at the union’s head offices on Abercromby Street, Port-of-Spain, when Duke’s rivals attempted to take control.
An injunction, which allows all union members access to the ground floor of the building to conduct business, was granted to Duke, and this remains in place until the cases are determined by the judge.
Rajiv Persad, Lionel Luckhoo and John Heath are representing the PSA, and its president.
Efforts to reach Duke were unsuccessful yesterday. He has indicated that he will be making a statement today on the outcome of the lawsuit.