Male prison managers win gender discrimination case

Potential damages being assessed

Four male Cayman Islands prison service managers who alleged they were “unequally remunerated” for performing essentially the same value work as a female supervisor who was paid more and given greater benefits, won their case before the Gender Equity Tribunal this month.

A four-member tribunal ruled Nov. 3 that the four male custodial managers were paid about 2 percent less in annual salary than the female prison supervisor and were not given a motor vehicle upkeep allowance as she was. The four complainants were identified as Stephen Cuthbert Atherley, Peter Andrew Foster, Marlon Dane Thomas Hodgson and Ricardo Hugh Patrick Lashley.

The tribunal ruling also states that the female supervisor, Nina White, was a family friend of Cayman Islands Prisons Director Neil Lavis and that she had been a member of Mr. Lavis’s staff in the U.K. between 2000 and 2004.

According to the tribunal records, Mr. Lavis informed the interview panel of his relationship with the potential prison hire and that the other members “did not see this as a conflict of interest which would prevent him from sitting on a panel to interview her.”

“[Ministry of Home Affairs Deputy Chief Officer Kathryn] Dinspel-Powell also confirmed that [Mr. Lavis] had informed the ministry of his friendship with Ms. White prior to the interview,” the tribunal documents stated. “She stated that the ministry wasn’t concerned with a material conflict because it was a panel of four persons and given the experience of the persons on the panel, any possible conflicts would be balanced out because they would know who would be a good fit for the positions.”

The tribunal was incredulous about these claims: “The tribunal found it difficult to understand why, if these various disclosures of the director’s prior relationship with Ms. White had been made, this had not been noted in the [job] interview notes or elsewhere …. In fact, it appears that the relationship was not disclosed in these proceedings until a letter from the Attorney General’s Chambers dated Aug. 4, 2016 [responded] to a query by the counsel for the complainants [the four male prison managers].”

The attorney for the four male prison officers, Guy Dilliway-Parry, declined to comment on the matter. Mr. Lavis, Ms. Dinspel-Powell, and Ministry of Home Affairs Chief Officer Wesley Howell were contacted for a response to the tribunal’s decision. No response was received by press time.

Both Mr. Lavis and Ms. Dinspel-Powell gave testimony to the tribunal which was included in its ruling.

The ruling of Nov. 3 states: “The tribunal, by a majority … finds that the respondent [the prisons service] has not discharged the burden of proof placed upon it pursuant to section 8 of the [Gender Equality] Law and accordingly, the complaints are substantiated.”

Attorneys for both sides were asked to make representation regarding costs and damages that might be awarded within 14 days of the judgment’s release, which was dated Nov. 9.

Job interview

The gender affairs dispute has its roots in a managerial hiring process the prison service began in early 2014, which resulted in two prison managers being hired, one female [Ms. White] and one male, Steve Hansen. Mr. Hansen was not one of the four prison officers who filed the gender affairs complaint.

The tribunal documents state that at the time, the prison interview panel made its selection for the jobs, Ms. White was working as a barista in a coffee shop after recently leaving the U.K. prisons service where she had worked for decades.

The four male complainants in the gender affairs case each had about 30 years’ experience with Her Majesty’s Prisons Service in the Cayman Islands, all of them having been hired in the mid-1980s. Mr. Hansen had been in the U.K. prisons system since about 1985. He moved to Cayman around 2000.

According to the tribunal records, the dispute arose over the fact that Ms. White was placed on civil service salary grade J point six when she was hired. The male prison managers – called custodial managers – were paid on salary grade J point four, or two points lower. The resulting difference in pay was about 1.7 percent per year, the documents state.

In testimony before the tribunal, Mr. Lavis stated that he was aware of Ms. White’s prior employment at the coffee shop. He said he was unaware where the four male prison managers were paid on the civil service salary scale.

“[Mr. Lavis] assumed that they were at the top of the salary scale, given the length of time that they were employed with [the prisons service],” the tribunal records stated.

Ms. Dinspel-Powell, who is the ministry deputy chief officer with responsibility for prisons, denied Ms. White was paid more because of her gender. “The ministry’s decision was based on Ms. White’s training, experience and previous pay in the U.K.,” she noted in her testimony.

The situation highlighted a perennial problem in the Cayman Islands , Ms. Dinspel-Powell noted, where incoming employees tend to be paid at market rates while long-serving government workers, who haven’t received a pay increase in a number of years due to austerity measures, are left behind.

“There were disparities in pay across government between established staff and new recruits as the result of the need to offer competitive salaries,” Ms. Dinspel-Powell said. “The reason why the complainants’ [four male prison officers’] pay has not been increased is due to budgetary and policy constraint.”

“The majority of the tribunal did not consider that this was genuine,” the tribunal stated in its decision.

“The majority of the tribunal concluded that what was likely to be causing the Ministry of Home Affairs some concern was that it was clear that the jobs being offered to Ms. White [a female] and Mr. Hansen [a male] were of equal value to the employer, and yet Ms. White was being placed on a salary scale of grade J point 6 whilst Mr. Hansen was being offered a very similar position and was being placed on a salary scale of grade J point four, notwithstanding that there appear to have been no significant differences in their experience and qualifications and only a comparatively small difference in their respective scores with the interview panel,” the decision stated.

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