Appeal court overturns unfair dismissal ruling and over $154,000 damages

Appeal court overturns unfair dismissal ruling and over $154,000 damages

NASSAU, BAHAMAS – The appellate court yesterday overturned a ruling by the Industrial Tribunal, which found that a former district manager of First Caribbean International Bank (Bahamas) Ltd. was unfairly dismissed by the bank for facilitating an “authorized overdraft”.

Byron Miller, a district manager who had been employed with the bank for over 22 years, reported directly to the managing director of the bank’s retail, wealth and small business division, according to court documents.

The bank investigated a number of transactions negotiation at the Shirley Street Branch, which was under Miller’s responsibility, and called upon the district manager to explain a particular charge he had approved for an existing customer, who approach him for short term financing to facilitate paying the cost associated with clearing several imported vehicles.

The bank warned Miller in a December 2010 letter concerning his use of suspense accounts and discretion, saying that “continued inappropriate use of delegated authorities could lead to dismissal”.

According to court documents, the bank conducted another investigation a month later into an overdraft facility authorized by Miller for a regional gospel awards program.

The bank said during its investigation into the matter, a breach of its code of conduct and code of discipline had been discovered and Miller was suspended until further notice with full pay and benefits until the bank completed its investigation.

He was fired in May 2011 following the conclusion on that investigation.

In August of that year, Miller filed a trade dispute that went before the Industrial Tribunal, which found that he had been unfairly dismissed and awarded him $154,521.86 in damages with interest of 10 percent in January 2018.

The Court of Appeal noted that in Miller’s originating application it indicated that his dispute was on the basis on wrongful dismissal, but on the first day of the hearing before the Tribunal, Miller’s counsel applied to amend the application to add an alternative claim that he had been unfairly dismissed.

Tribunal Vice President Keith Thompson acceded the request.

The bank, the appellant in the appeal, challenged the jurisdiction of the Tribunal to amend the original application.

Yesterday, the decision and award of damages was set aside in its entirety by the Court of Appeal and a new hearing in the Tribunal was ordered of the originating summons as originally filed in 2014.

Justices John Isaacs, Crane-Scott and Jones presided over the matter

“It is clear from the pleadings that at the start of the hearing, the appellant (counsel for the bank) came to meet the respondent’s (Miller) claim for wrongful dismissal,” the appellate court said.

“On the first day of the hearing, the vice president, in excess of the Tribunal’s jurisdiction under rule 9, acceded to the respondent’s application to amend the originating application and impermissibly proceeded to conduct the trial without adjourning the hearing or allowing the appellant the opportunity to adjust its defence.

“As we have already found, this resulted in procedural unfairness to the appellant which was firstly, denied the opportunity to properly meet the new claim of unfair dismissal and secondly, forced to participate at a trial which raised new issues which it was not fully prepared to meet.

“In short, the Tribunal’s errors were such that we were satisfied that a substantial miscarriage of justice occurred in the Tribunal below…”