Government hiring fight could go to court

A long-brewing battle over hiring for a high-profile Ministry of Education job could end up in the Grand Court, Deputy Governor Franz Manderson said Tuesday.

The dispute, which has been taking place behind the scenes since October 2017, involves a situation where a non-Caymanian was hired to fill the role of ministry human resources director over two Caymanians who also applied for the job and who both scored higher during a panel interview for the position.

The Caymanian applicant who scored the highest in the interview took her case to the Civil Service Appeals Commission on Oct. 23, 2017, stating that she should have been hired for the post over the non-Caymanian. She argued that the ministry had “acted unfairly or in a biased manner” in making the hiring decision.

The non-Caymanian had been the acting human resources director in the ministry for the three years before taking on the job full time.

On Dec. 20, 2017, the appeals commission, chaired by former Deputy Governor Donovan Ebanks, agreed that there was evidence that the ministry “acted unfairly toward the [Caymanian job applicant] during the selection phase of the recruitment process.”

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The commission sought a response before making its ruling in the case, but according to documents reviewed by the Cayman Compass, Education Ministry officials did not respond to emails or phone calls concerning the appeal. The commission stated its “disappointment” in the ministry’s failure to acknowledge its various communications about the appeal.

The commission ordered that the Caymanian applicant be offered the post as of Feb. 15, 2018 and that she receive additional compensation for pay she would have received if she had been hired for the human resources job at the date it was first awarded, in late September. If that Caymanian applicant did not accept the job, the commission ordered, it should be given to the second most successful Caymanian who applied.

If neither Caymanian applicant accepted the job, it should be re-advertised, the commission said.

Stating that the commission’s ruling in the hiring dispute was “unprecedented” during his time in office, Mr. Manderson supported the ministry’s hiring decision and “signed off” on the non-Caymanian applicant’s employment.

“I support the decision of the [ministry] chief officer [Christen Suckoo],” Mr. Manderson said Tuesday. “The Caymanians who applied were not really able and capable of taking up the role at this time and the position was offered to a non-Caymanian.

“Both the Ministry [of Education] and the civil service have a proven track record of hiring and promoting Caymanians within the civil service. I expect in the not too distant future, we will have a Caymanian in [the ministry HR] role,” he added.

Any such order made by the Civil Service Appeals Commission, in order to have legal effect, needs to be enforced by the deputy governor. Mr. Manderson said his office was considering taking the entire issue to the Grand Court and that legal advice had been received on the matter.

Interview process

A panel report done as part of the interview process for the ministry job in May 2017 considered a total of five shortlisted applicants for the human resources position.

The ultimately successful candidate scored a 44.5 on the review, the second-lowest out of the five shortlisted candidates. The highest scoring Caymanian applicant received a score of 49.

The interview process was partly based on a 15-minute presentation to the hiring panel on “leadership strategies essential for successful change management.”

Of the successful non-Caymanian applicant, panel reviewers said: “[He] has built the necessary relationships with staff and stakeholders, in addition to extensive knowledge and on the ground information he has gained while acting in this role.

“There are presently three Caymanians within the human resources unit with the potential to vie for the post of HR director, once trained and upscaled. [He] has committed to training and upscaling these individuals in order to increase their suitability to applying for the post of HR director in the future.”

Of the highest-scoring Caymanian applicant, the panel said: “Although the panel was impressed with [the applicant’s] HR background and enthusiasm, [she] unfortunately lacked the experience in managing large HR teams and an in-depth knowledge of budget management, which is a crucial aspect of this role.”

Of the second-highest scoring applicant, it was said: “[She] has held senior roles throughout government, [but] does not possess any current HR experience.”

Commission ruling

In addition to seeking to award a Caymanian applicant the job, the Civil Service Appeals Commission commented on what it felt was “the apparent lack of any systems to identify and consider Caymanian candidates” for opportunities to ‘act’ in the human resources role, such as those provided to the non-Caymanian applicant who was ultimately successful in being hired full-time to the position.”

It also noted that Deputy Governor Manderson himself reviewed and endorsed the hiring of the non-Caymanian.

“The commission is unaware of any statutory or other basis on which this review and endorsement were conducted and, accordingly, gave no significance to it,” the Dec. 20 ruling stated.

The commission also stated that “any financial or legal repercussions” arising from the hiring decision were the government’s responsibility.

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  1. This is really a hot potato!. I am entirely confident that Mr Manderson has entirely valid reasons for this appointment which will stand up in court. It is most unfortunate if Government will have to defend itself in court but at least it will reveal the truth of the matter for the benefit of all concerned including Mr Donovan Ebanks.