THE COURT of Appeal has ruled in a decade-long legal battle by a prison officer who was said to have abandoned her job after missing work for several months because of injury and pregnancy.
Last week, Justices of Appeal Alice Yorke-Soo Hon, Nolan Bereaux, and Mira Dean-Armorer ruled that the Public Service Commission (PSC) acted irrationally and unfairly in its handling of Favianna Gajadhar's case.
Gajadhar joined the Prison Service in 2000, and suffered a back injury and was absent from duty for extended periods between 2004 and 2006.
She became pregnant and tried to resume her duties three months after her daughter was born in June 2006.
She was told by a supervisor she could not resume her duties because she did not properly account for the periods of her absence.
She claimed that she submitted her sick-leave and maternity leave certificates, but the PSC still declared that she had effectively resigned from her post, effective June 2007, as she was absent without leave between April 2006 to then.
Gajadhar filed a judicial review application, which was upheld by the High Court and the Court of Appeal, which ordered it to reconsider its decision that she resigned in June 2007.
It did so in November 2017 and stood by its initial decision but provided a different reason that related to an issue with Gajadhar's maternity leave application.
Gajadhar brought another lawsuit against the second decision, which was also upheld. The PSC appealed and in the most recent decision, the Court of Appeal ruled that the commission could not maintain its position on new grounds without giving Gajadhar an opportunity to respond to it.
"It seems to us that there could be no counter-argument that the changing of reasons by a decision-maker, as a matter of principle, is unfair," Dean-Armorer, who wrote the decision, said.
"The discrepancy was not only trivial but had been the result of the mistake of some unknown official at the Port-of-Spain General Hospital and of which rectification would have been impossible," Dean-Armorer said.
"A decision to terminate Ms. Gajadhar's employment for such a discrepancy is one which no reasonable Commission would make," she added.
The court also ruled that Gajadhar did not have a legitimate expectation that she would be automatically reinstated after succeeding in her lawsuit and the appeal so the commission will now have to reconsider, again, her case based on the guidelines issued by the Court of Appeal.
Gajadhar has been challenging the PSC’s decision for more than a decade
The commission was represented by Ian Benjamin, SC, and Keisha Prosper. Gajadhar was represented by Anand Ramlogan, SC, Gerald Ramdeen, Renuka Rambhajan, and Jared Jagroo.