Cayman’s former acting fire chief, who claimed last year that he was being forced into retirement by the government, was “medical boarded” last Friday – meaning he was evaluated and considered to be “unfit for duty” following a lengthy medical-related absence.
The decision of the territory’s chief medical officer was confirmed in a letter to the government Ministry of Home Affairs this week.
Home Affairs Chief Officer Eric Bush said Rosworth McLaughlin is now considered to be retired, but that he will continue to be paid for a further three months “in lieu of notice.”
Mr. McLaughlin was contacted on Thursday for comment, but did not return phone calls seeking comment on the situation. He did not state whether he intended to appeal the medical board’s decision.
The acting fire chief sought judicial review last year, alleging he was forced into retirement by the government following a consultant’s review of the local fire service.
In a decision released Monday, Cayman Islands Grand Court Justice Richard Williams indicated that it would have been premature for the court to hear such a case when no final decisions had been made and the government’s own internal appeals process had not been followed.
“[Mr. McLaughlin] remains employed 7½ months after the date upon which [Mr. McLaughlin] contends the decision had been made to retire him and there still remains no notice date for any retirement,” Justice Williams wrote.
According to the claims in the judicial review application, a decision was made on April 29, 2014 to retire the firefighter, who has served since 1979 and had been acting as chief fire officer since March 2013.
However, Mr. Bush, who has responsibility for oversight management of the fire service, said at the time that he had made no such decision and that the ministry was in negotiations with Mr. McLaughlin over a “settlement package.”
According to Justice Williams’s ruling denying the judicial review application, Mr. McLaughlin applied in October 2013 for “voluntary separation” from the fire service, similar to selecting an option for early retirement. He was told his application for separation did not meet government criteria.
In February 2014, Mr. McLaughlin submitted an application to be considered for the full-time post of chief fire officer. He was advised at the time that the Cayman Islands Fire Service intended to restructure, eliminating the post of deputy chief fire officer, which Mr. McLaughlin held prior to becoming acting chief fire officer. That same month, Mr. Bush notified Mr. McLaughlin of the ministry’s intention to retire him under the Public Service Management Law to “improve the efficiency” of the civil service.
Mr. McLaughlin wrote in a March 9, 2014 letter to Mr. Bush that he “was prepared to retire early” from the fire service, as long as certain issues were addressed. An agreement over the “settlement package” was discussed in various communications over the next several months, but no resolution was reached, and Mr. McLaughlin was never formally “retired.”
An appeal of what Mr. McLaughlin took to be his “forced retirement” was lodged with the Cayman Islands Civil Service Appeals Commission on May 22, 2014. The judge said that step was premature.
“By lodging the appeal in this hasty manner, [Mr. Bush] was not afforded the opportunity to consider whether he wished to move on to the final part of the process [forced retirement],” Justice Williams wrote.
In the meantime, two other acting fire chiefs, Roy Grant and John Bodden, have been appointed to lead the fire service. Mr. Bodden remains in the position to date.