General — 16 December 2014 — by Rowland A. Parks
BWS terminated employees’ lawsuit concludes in the Supreme Court

BELIZE CITY–A lawsuit that was filed against Belize Water Services (BWS) by six of its former employees who were terminated from their posts at the company, purportedly as part of a redundancy exercise, concluded in the Supreme Court of Justice Michelle Arana late this evening. The six claimants are suing BWS for their outstanding benefits and packages.

Attorneys in the case are expected to submit written submissions by January 23, after which Justice Arana will issue a ruling. No date has been set for Arana’s ruling in the civil claims, which began about six months ago.

At today’s hearing, the court heard from the BWS Workers Union vice president Lorelei Westby, who was the union’s president in February 2012, when the six workers were given their walking papers following an internal investigation that BWS launched after a series of “salacious letters” had surfaced.

This morning, under cross-examination from attorney Tricia Pitts-Anderson, who is representing five of the six claimants, Mark Menzies, Don Gillett, Michael Novelo, Journett McKoy, Charlette Barnett and Colin Morrision, Westby told the court that the union did not receive any letter from the company with respect to the termination of the claimants.

When Pitts-Anderson asked her if she did not clamor against the termination of the claimants, Westby replied that she had removed herself as president of the union between October and November 2012.

Westby, in answer to a question posed to her by Pitts-Anderson, said that she had sat on two sessions of BWS internal investigation of the salacious letters, but had removed herself from the company’s investigation.

Late into the morning and in the early part of the afternoon, BWS Chief Executive Officer Alvan Haynes took the witness stand.

After BWS attorney, Julie-Ann Ellis-Bradley, from the law firm of Barrow and Williams, had asked Haynes a couple questions which led to his identification of a written statement that he had provided for the case, Haynes was crossed-examined by Said Musa, S.C., who is representing Mark Menzies.

Haynes admitted that “the work of Menzies was up to standard.”

Musa suggested to Haynes that the real reason Menzies was terminated was because he did not cooperate with the BWS investigation.

During the months of BWS investigation into the origin of the salacious letters, Haynes said that between 50 and 60 Belize City BWS employees were questioned.

“There was the general feeling that some people were withholding information, but there was no clear proof as to who had written the letters,” Haynes admitted under cross-examination.

The day after the six employees were terminated, CEO Haynes had written a memorandum to the BWS staff, but in court, he admitted “the contents of that memorandum were untrue and that it was written to boost staff morale.”

According to Haynes, the company was deciding to implement redundancy as a cost-cutting measure after its rates were cut 7.2% by the Public Utilities Commission (PUC), and department heads recommended the claimants for redundancy despite good marks in their most recent performance appraisal in March of 2012. Haynes’ memo of February 7, 2012, was in his words an attempt to flesh out further information about the letters, but he denied that it had anything to do with the claimants.

Instead, he said it was a warning to other employees to watch their behavior and cooperate, a decision Haynes now regrets, as it was not in keeping with the core values of the company.

Haydon Brown, the human resources manager for BWS, also testified.

Brown told the court, also under cross-examination, that it was not his decision to terminate the workers. “Management made the recommendation to terminate and the board agreed,” Brown said.

Brown said he was taken aback when he got the CEO’s memorandum the day after the six workers were terminated.

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