Ex-MLA employee unfairly dismissed, Labour Tribunal finds

A former office worker for two George Town MLAs won a $2,632 award earlier this month for unfair dismissal from her job, according to documents obtained from Cayman’s Labour Tribunal.

Roy McTaggart
Roy McTaggart

Christine Rae Smith said Wednesday, however, that she has declined to cash the check and accept the tribunal’s award because she believes she is owed more than $9,000 according to her employment contract with MLAs Roy McTaggart and Winston Connolly.

Ms. Smith was arrested in 2015 in connection with two robberies, one a home invasion attack at an apartment in Raleigh Quay on June 26, 2015 and another that occurred on July 10, 2015 at Elegant Nails & More in George Town. Ms. Smith, who is charged in connection with the nail salon incident, denies involvement in either crime. She has not been convicted in either case.

“People that work for government, they get suspension with pay during an investigation,” Ms. Smith said Wednesday. “My employers didn’t even contact me to find out what the story was [before dismissing her].”

Ms. Smith, as an employee of the two MLAs, is not considered a civil servant under the Public Service Management Law, but a “political appointee” who may be terminated in accordance with less protective rules under Cayman’s Labour Law (2004 revision).

Before the Labour Tribunal, attorney Michael Alberga, representing both MLAs, stated that his clients had been “patient, considerate and generous” with Ms. Smith during the period after her Aug. 6, 2015 arrest in the Raleigh Quay robbery.

Mr. McTaggart told the tribunal that he had tried to assist with providing childcare for Ms. Smith’s two children immediately following the arrest. Both Mr. McTaggart and Mr. Connolly said they tried to reach an agreement with Ms. Smith via their attorney in late August 2015 that involved paying her more money than she ultimately was awarded by the Labour Tribunal.

Both men said they were advised by attorneys that they could have simply dismissed her outright following her arrest, but that they tried to settle with her, albeit unsuccessfully.

Winston Connolly says he will leave the Progressives caucus.
Winston Connolly says he will leave the Progressives caucus.

The MLAs and their attorney were contacted for any further comments they wished to make prior to publication of this article. Neither lawmaker responded. “It’s not worth writing about,” Mr. Alberga said.

According to details of the settlement negotiation laid out in the tribunal records, a check for $3,582.64 was sent to Ms. Smith as part of the settlement offer, including salary and healthcare contributions due through Aug. 15, 2015. Ms. Smith said she did not accept this check and asked for one-month notice payments, salary and pension contributions due through Sept. 17, 2015, which was the date a termination letter was sent to her.

The reason stated for the termination was not Ms. Smith’s alleged involvement in any robbery, but that the independent George Town MLAs’ office was being closed and she was being made redundant. Ms. Smith denied this was the “real reason” she was being fired.

The tribunal ended up siding with Ms. Smith on the redundancy issue.

“Had [Ms. Smith’s] termination genuinely been by reason of redundancy, she would have been entitled to notice pay which … would have been 30 days [further payment],” the tribunal ruled. “Notice of pay was not included in the statement of compensation attached to [Ms. Smith’s] termination letter of Sept. 17, 2015.”

The tribunal’s award to Ms. Smith consisted of four weeks’ pay, but did not add any additional salary payments between Aug. 6 (the date of her arrest) and Sept. 17 (the date she was fired).

“It is not possible to back date the termination date in circumstances such as the above,” the tribunal ruled.

Ms. Smith said she is continuing to press a case with the Department of Labour and Pensions in an attempt to receive further payments from her previous employers.

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  1. Sometimes we need to look at the other side of the coin, what if it was one of your family members in this position how would you feel. Caymanians need to show more kindness for each other. Not to allow a person to suffer for just a few dollars more. How much will it hurt just to be kind to one another.

  2. Twyla you so right. As I was saying this morning in respect to another article. We need to throw out the “crabs in a bucket” mentality seeking every easy opportunity to bring one another down. Faced with re-election hopes and dreams these 2 MLAs who can both purchase a small country with their combined wealth – this is really not the time to be cheap and insensitive to a single mother of two regardless of cases pending. Right is right and this will not sit well with the Cayman public come Election time and I can think of another Minister fighting poor family in her district who will gain same “black eye” for putting folks in the poor house when it comes to Election Time which is right around the corner- literally round the corner. Just do the right thing Messrs Connonlly and Mctaggart. You all can afford it !!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

  3. What the public have to understand here is that the criminal accusations have nothing to do with the Labour Law. Even if a person is guilty for a criminal action they are still entitled to certain benefits under the Labour Law. The termination of this woman is not in dispute it is the method of termination. They, the MLA’s chose to terminate her by way of redundancy instead of just firing her. The method that they chose to use has to be justifiable which the Labour Tribunal found that it was not thus the award for severance and unfair dismissal. The other funds that are due to her under the Labour Law are a statutory requirement, whether or not she was justifiably terminated. The reason for this is that unpaid wages and unpaid vacation pay are an entitlement as you have earned these and her notice pay is contractual as her employment contract states she must be paid this. Also the MLA’s are giving the impression that offering to pay her this is “doing her a favour” or being “generous”. Paying what the Law demands that you pay is not a “favour” or “generous”. IT IS MANDATORY and if they do not pay it they are breaking the law.