General — 07 September 2019 — by Rowland A. Parks
HIV-positive woman takes out constitutional claim for wrongful termination

BELIZE CITY, Wed. Sept. 4, 2019– In 2011, the Government of Belize amended the Labor Act and made provision for the establishment of a Labor Complaints Tribunal that would have the authority to hear cases referred to it.

The Labor Complaints Tribunal, a creature of legislation, was never established. This, therefore, left persons with labor-related issues without any alternative but to seek redress through the courts in civil claims.

That is what a woman did when she filed a fixed-date constitutional claim at the Supreme Court for a wrongful termination. Claim No. 296 of 2019 has named the Minister of Labor, Local Government and Rural Development as the first defendant, and the Attorney General as the second defendant. The relevant ministers themselves do not appear in court; it is the Solicitor General or his representatives who appear in court on their behalf.

Thr HIV-positive woman, was employed as a cleaner but lost her job when her employer found out that she was HIV positive.

The civil claim for wrongful dismissal came up today for a hearing before Hon. Madam Justice Shona Griffith, and appearing on behalf of the government were Crown Counsels Kileru Awich and Briana Williams.

The claimant is being defended by attorneys Anthony Sylvestre, from the law firm of Musa and Balderamos, and Leslie Mendez. Only Sylvestre appeared in court today, because Mendez is at the University of Notre Dame (USA) studying for a Master’s Degree in Human Rights Law.

The government’s attorneys, in their written submission, have argued that the case should not proceed as a constitutional claim because the claimant already had “parallel remedies and or relief available to her in the civil courts of Belize…that the claimant’s claim lacks any special or exceptional features…that the claimant’s claim is a contractual claim improperly brought as a constitutional claim. The claimant’s claim is academic.”

In a telephone interview this evening, attorney Mendez told us that because there is no tribunal, this prevented her from seeking the remedies under the labor tribunal, which was not set up.

Mendez explained that if the tribunal had been in place, it is unlikely that she would have had recourse to the court, because wrongful dismissal is a creature of statute, and the statute indicates that persons with such claims are to go to the tribunal and not to the courts.

We asked Mendez on what basis is the court hearing the claim.

“The court is hearing the matter on a breach of her right to protection of the law,” Mendez replied.

We also asked Mendez what remedy they are seeking from the court.

“We are seeking damages, as well as a remedy for the court to order the government to constitute the tribunal,” Mendez said.

The case will continue in October.

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