More trouble for CMU

University facing multimillion dollar compensation claims from two former lecturers

BY RACQUEL PORTER
Observer staff reporter
porterr@jamaicaobserver.com

Monday, August 05, 2019

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The beleaguered Caribbean Maritime University (CMU) is facing fresh trouble with two former employees demanding millions of dollars in compensation for what they claim was their wrongful dismissal from the institution.

The two former employees told the Jamaica Observer that they were forced to move the matter into the public space after the university failed to meet with them despite indicating that it would settle one of the cases out of court.

Attorney-at-law Zaieta Skyers, who is representing the two former adjunct lecturers at CMU, said they were dismissed unfairly in June 2018 despite having contracts which were scheduled to end in August 2020.

In separate letters dated June 15 and 18, 2018, the two lecturers, whose names are being withheld, were told that their employment with the CMU had been terminated and that they would be paid three months' salary in lieu of notice.

“Please note that all outstanding payments including unused vacation leave will be paid to you. Many thanks for your contribution to the development of the Caribbean Maritime University and in particular, the FACT Centre (Festo Authorised and Certified Training Centre for Mechatronics and Automation),” one letter stated.

Noting that the letters did not say why they were terminated, one of the former employees told the Observer that she was dismissed after she returned from sick leave.

“I don't know what happened in my absence but on a Monday morning I went to work to see a termination letter,” she told the Observer.

She said she sought legal advice immediately and a letter was sent to the institution requesting a meeting.

According to the former lecturer, she is still clueless as to why she was terminated. She explained that she is yet to receive a memo that she was told was sent to her.

Skyers told the Observer that she wrote to CMU on July 20, 2018 requesting a meeting and that her client be reinstated and paid for the new position, but this was not done.

The attorney pointed to a letter she received from the CMU dated August 17 which stated that the matter was referred to the Office of Legal and International Affairs by the Human Resource and Administration Department and that they were conducting an internal investigation into the case.

The letter also stated that as soon the investigation was done the CMU would provide a formal response to the demand made by Skyers.

According to Skyers, when she did not hear anything more from the CMU she wrote to the Ministry of Labour and Social Security requesting a consolatory meeting and a date was set for the parties to meet at the ministry in February 2019.

But one day before the scheduled meeting the CMU contacted her stating that it would like to settle the matter instead of going to the labour ministry. Skyers said she proposed a sum of $4.8 million in compensation for the dismissed lecturer.

In May 2019, the attorney received a letter and a cheque for $1,195,253.63 which the CMU said was the full and final settlement for her client.

Skyers said she sent back the cheque to the university as the amount was unacceptable and has been unsuccessful in her efforts to arrange a meeting with officials of the CMU since then.

“I haven't heard anything from their attorney-at-law. We did another letter where we upgraded our figure from $4.8 million to $7.2 million on the basis that she needs to be compensated for damages because she has been out of a job since June 2018. We haven't heard anything from CMU.

“We have been to the ministry twice for consolatory meetings because the representative there indicated to us that letters and e-mails were sent to CMU and that they have received them,” added Skyers as she pointed out that the compensation being demanded for that former lecturer has now been increased to $10.5 million.

The other former CMU employee told the Observer that she was summoned to a meeting prior to her termination.

She said she was given four days to complete a task which she did in two days but left the campus without indicating that it had been done.

“Apparently, the persons who assigned me the task did not take kindly to me leaving the FACT Centre without telling him. He did a memo and sent it wherever. I don't know where it was sent without my knowledge. The next day I went to work I was summoned to a meeting with the vice- president, the HR director and the person I reported directly to,” said the former lecturer.

She said during that meeting she was told that a memo was sent stating that she was ineffective and inefficient.

“I am yet to see that memo,” she said. At the end of that week her service was terminated with immediate effect.

When the Jamaica Observer requested a response from the Legal Department at the CMU during the week of July 15 to 19, we were told that they would get back to us. One week later our news team was told that no one was in the office to speak to allegations of wrongful dismissal.

Since then there has been no further word from the CMU which has seen its President Professor Fritz Pinnock, opt to go on leave in the wake of several allegations surrounding its operation. Professor Ibrahim Ajagunn has been appointed to act as president in Pinnock's absence.

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