When the Gender Equality Law was passed in 2011, lawmakers hailed it as an important step toward rectifying systemic bias toward men over women in the Cayman Islands private sector.

Now, in its highest-profile decision yet, the associated Gender Equality Tribunal has issued a ruling based on the opposite: that a woman was unfairly being paid more than men in comparable positions, and for a government job in Cayman’s prisons system.

Underscoring the absurdity of it all is the infinitesimal magnitude of the “disparity” in pay between the female prison supervisor and the four male custodial managers — amounting, in total, to 1.7 percent per year. (For our readers without a calculator nearby, that equates to $850 per year for a $50,000 salary or $425 for a $25,000 salary. In other words, a rounding error.)

In addition, the obvious question needs to be asked: What’s sex got to do with this?

The Tribunal’s ruling dwelled at length on issues unrelated to “gender equality,” namely the pre-existing friendship and work history between the female supervisor Nina White and Cayman Islands Prison Director Neil Lavis — a connection that Mr. Lavis had appropriately disclosed to ministry officials and fellow interview panel members before Ms. White interviewed for the job.

If primary issues to be considered involved allegations of pay inequality because of personal favoritism, why did the matter go before the Gender Equality Tribunal in the first place, rather than the Labour Tribunal?

As a general point, we resist and resent efforts to divide the human species into subcategories, to reduce them to superficial characteristics, such as gender, race, religion, class or nationality, and to attempt to compare and judge them accordingly. Since we have a Gender Equality Tribunal, are we to have a tribunal for each of the other traits we listed above, plus additional ones for blood type, dietary restrictions or political ideology?

We would contend the opposite. Citizen tribunals are little more than coteries of amateur judges. The lack of training, experience and judicial temperament leads directly to decisions like the one made by the Gender Equality Tribunal. This single case is a persuasive argument in favor of getting rid of the Gender Equality Tribunal, for starters.

It is difficult to believe that this kind of intrusive flexing of authority over an ultimately trivial matter is what our elected officials envisioned when they unanimously approved the Law and created the Tribunal. We would argue, on the other hand, that it was inevitable.

The Tribunal’s methodology of attempting to compare salaries, using criteria such as job titles and years of experience, is fundamentally flawed.

As any business owner will tell you, an individual’s job title does not equate to the value he or she brings to a company. “Years on the job” is also a poor indicator, one promoted primarily by entities (such as unions) who oppose “merit pay” and government bureaucrats who like simple, “one size fits all” metrics. Stated briefly, people defy such simplistic categorization.

In a way, it is good that the first vehicle to hit the Gender Equality Tribunal pothole is a government-controlled one. If a private company were dragged through this process over a matter of 1.7 percent, it would have a profound, chilling effect on Cayman’s business environment.

The ruling should serve as a warning to officials, signaling the necessity of swift action in regard to this rogue Tribunal — and, more broadly, of intense critical scrutiny of Cayman’s entire network of citizen panels adjudicating administrative law.

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1 COMMENT

  1. This is the first time that I have ever commented on an article on this website, however, your editorial is so completely legally incorrect and based on fallacies that I felt compelled to. I have a legal background in labour and discrimination law, with a particular focus on the human rights of women. Yes, it is ironic that the first case of note to be successful at the Gender Equality Tribunal was lodged by men, however, that actually denotes a positive thing – that gender equality is aimed at exactly that, equality. It should be applicable and accessible as much to men as to women, to redress unfairness related to unequal pay, discrimination or harassment.

    Gender discrimination, like all forms of non-lawful discrimination is by no means an easy thing to legislate against. It can be so underground and insidious that how can legislation possibly protect what it sets out to? Systems across the world are reduced to what you note above, which is to base assumptions on salaries, criteria and experience in order to weed out and eliminate unequal treatment on the grounds of sexual favouritism and the like. That is how the law works! So actually, whilst there are criticisms that can be made, the Gender Equality Law is a decent piece of legislation which we should be applauding and utilising as a model for other forms of discrimination.

    In fact, the problem, if any with the Gender Equality Tribunal (which IS full of legal expertise in this area and not merely lay persons) is that it is under-used. More people need to be aware of its existence and the fact that they are protected from discrimination related to gender. And in answer to the questions posed, should we have a tribunal for other traits of discrimination? Yes, we absolutely should, because that is how a modern, fair and equal society works, and that is how we eliminate stereotypes and discrimination to fulfil the principle of equality for all.

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