Former Housing Development Corporation (HDC) managing director Jearlean John’s $17 million unfair dismissal lawsuit against the State enterprise has been dismissed.
John, who was appointed to the position by former prime minister Patrick Manning in 2009, was terminated for her behaviour towards HDC officials, including chairman Newman George.
John took legal action and the matter was heard before Justice Kevin Ramcharan.
The judge ruled that John’s dismissal was justified because of her behaviour and not because of any findings contained in the audit. He noted that there is nothing in an audit report of the HDC which is sufficient to dismiss John.
During her cross-examination by Senior Counsel Russell Martineau last year John denied that she was hostile towards HDC board members when confronted over an audit into her tenure at the HDC at a meeting in March 2016.
She had indicated that she was confronted by George and other directors over the lease of a Mercedes-Benz vehicle.
John made it clear that she never rented any vehicle as she drove her own car to and from work. She denied behaving in any loud and aggressive manner during the meeting but admitted that she did accuse the board of engaging in a “witch-hunt” against her.
John’s attorneys claimed she was fired after she raised allegations of misconduct within the HDC, including an attempt by a former government minister to influence the awarding of HDC waste disposal contracts and to facilitate a maintenance contract for a company owned by the wife of a senior government minister.
In his judgment, Justice Ramcharan stated that two issues arose — whether John’s conduct at the meeting was sufficient to dismiss her and, secondly, whether the HDC could rely on previous conduct as grounds for her dismissal.
“With regard to the first issue, the court is of the view that the claimant’s (John) conduct was unfortunate and unjustifiable. However, in the circumstances in which the meeting proceeded, the Court can understand why the claimant would feel somewhat upset, thus leading to the claimant’s reaction,” stated the judge.
He noted that John was not provided an agenda prior to the meeting and therefore was unaware as to what the meeting was about.
“She would be justified in feeling blindsided and ambushed. However, it does not excuse the way in which she reacted, but the Court is of the view that it does offer some mitigation which ought to have been considered by the defendant,” he stated
“Therefore the Court is of the view that the claimant’s conduct at the meeting alone was not sufficient to dismiss the claimant,” he stated.
“With respect to the prior conduct, the claimant contended that based on the defendant’s (HDC) pleadings which sought to justify the dismissal of the claimant on the meeting alone, the defendant could not rely on the prior conduct.
“The court does not agree. Everything must be taken in its proper context, and the reaction of the defendant to the claimant’s conduct at the meeting would necessarily be influenced by her prior conduct,” stated the judgment summary.
It said that John sought to justify her actions, but in the court’s view, they are unjustifiable and the HDC was entitled to dismiss her.
“With respect to the findings of the audit, though it is not necessary to consider them, the Court notes that it is of the view that none of the infractions therein, or the accumulation of them, would have been sufficient to dismiss the claimant,” it stated.
The judgment said that even if the dismissal was not justified, the Court is of the view that John failed to discharge the burden to allow the Court to depart from the usual measure of damages in wrongful dismissal cases.
It stated that in those circumstances, as the HDC could have lawfully terminated the contract with three months’ notice for any reason, the maximum damages John would be entitled to would be three months’ salary and other benefits.
“In the circumstances, the Claimant’s claim is dismissed with costs on the prescribed scale,” it stated.
Contacted by the Express yesterday, John said she had no comment as she was on a walkabout.
John is the United National Congress (UNC) candidate for La Horquetta/Talparo in the August 10 general election.