Cayman’s appointed body that considers complaints regarding gender discrimination has told government officials it does not need to explain its decision in 2016 that Her Majesty’s Prison’s Service discriminated against four male prison supervisors.

The case made headlines because the men alleged they were paid less than a female prisons manager, Nina White, who was a family friend of former Prisons Director Neil Lavis. The allegation made by the male officers was essentially that Mr. Lavis, and other senior government officials, agreed to pay Ms. White more because of her personal relationship with the former prisons boss.

The Gender Equality Tribunal’s ruling was reviewed by the government Internal Audit Unit at the request of the Commission for Standards in Public Life, which has pressed Acting Governor Franz Manderson for a response on the tribunal ruling.

Internal auditors looking into the matter were rebuffed by the gender tribunal, which apparently refused to respond to questions sent by the audit service.

“[The tribunal] declined to comment, stating the tribunal is a ‘quasi-judicial body and unless there is a clear legislative authority to do so, is not at liberty to elaborate or elucidate on its determination,’” the audit report noted.

Auditors went ahead with the review anyway, stating that all three senior public officers involved in Ms. White’s hiring at the prison service – including Mr. Lavis and deputy chief officer at the Ministry of Home Affairs Kathryn Dinspel-Powell – complied with recruitment requirements in the Public Service Management Law.

“No evidence was found to indicate that any of the three civil servants whose behaviors were drawn into question as a result of the Gender Equality Tribunal hearing acted contrary to the public service values or code of conduct during the recruitment process,” auditors stated.

Gender tribunal members found in their November 2016 ruling in the case that statements made by Mr. Lavis and other interview panel members regarding Ms. White’s hiring were simply “not credible.”

The four-member tribunal ruled Nov. 3, 2016 that the four male custodial managers were paid about 2 percent less in annual salary than the female prison supervisor, Ms. White, and were not given a motor vehicle upkeep allowance as she was.

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 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.”

Internal auditors found the relatively slight difference in salaries to be reasonable and, in fact, normal within the civil service. The review looked at six government jobs where an on-island resident and an overseas applicant had been recruited for the same position during 2017, regardless of gender, and found that in five of the six cases, the successful overseas applicant was paid more.

“Human resources professional[s] consistently supported the view that off-island applicants are in a stronger negotiating position and more likely to make, and be successful with, higher salary demands,” the report noted.

Auditors found that Mr. Lavis had clearly declared his relationship with Ms. White during the process and provided further advice on the matter from the attorney general’s chambers which noted it was “completely unclear … how any personal relationship … had anything to do with discrimination based on sex or gender.”

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  1. If the Gender Equality Tribunal do, indeed, not have to give reasons, then they are probably quite relieved because it is very difficult to think of anything in this sorry saga that is around gender equality other than the claimants were male and the appointee was a woman.

    I do, however, believe that Mr Lavis should not have sat on the interview panel and while his fellow interviewers might have been totally professional, a) doesn’t the presence of a family friend in the room not likely to have SOME influence, and b) why take the risk? And why would a prison manager have a car maintenance allowance out of step with other, similar managers?

    Yes, there are questions to be answered and I am not convinced the Internal Audit has answered them.

    As someone involved in hiring staff, I know that once a decision to hire has been made at these levels, then there is usually some negotiation around starting salary usually around the value of the previous experiences the candidate brings and/or to be able to trump any other offer they may have. It would not be unusual for a person to apply for a position, get offered it and then refuse as their intention was not to get a new job but to get a raise from their current employer. You often see jobs adverts with the line that the expectation is for new staff to begin on the bottom of any grade…. that usually applies to internal promotees but rarely, in my experience, to incomers.

    But what you do not do is have someone on the interview panel who has declared an interest and you try and be as transparent around what salary / allowance expectations by citing these in the original job advert. If there was no indication of an additional vehicle maintenance allowance in the job description, why was this paid?

  2. Perhaps the Compass should reprint its editorial of Nov 2016 on this matter. I consider it sets a very disturbing precedent if any Government appointed body, even if comprised of Caymanians, can ignore a request from Government’s own auditors to explain its rulings. This makes a nonsense of due process. Government should immediatley review this case and if necessary take immediate steps to ensure future transparency from these seemingly autonomouus tribunals.