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.”