Worker battles Iberostar hotel over four-year suspension
February 2, 2016 seemed like a normal work day for Marlon McLeod when he arrived at Iberostar Rose Hall Beach Hotel in Montego Bay, St James.
But within minutes, according to the then 26-year-old assistant guest relations manager, his life was turned upside down after he was summoned to the resort’s human resource department.
McLeod said he was handed a letter, signed by then Human Resource Manager G. Anthony Ferguson, which linked him to “an alleged incident of fraud on the Iberostar property”.
“The decision is now made to suspend your services pending further investigations. Kindly submit your name tag and identification card to the HR department or to your department head immediately,” read a copy of the letter he made available to The Gleaner.
“Leading up to that day, no charges had been levelled against me and I never got a disciplinary hearing. Never,” he insisted.
Now, nearly four years later, McLeod remains on suspension from his $129,000-a-month job. He has since hired an attorney and is bracing for a legal showdown with the Spanish owners of the luxury resort.
His attorney, Lorenzo Eccleston, told The Gleaner that the case has also been placed before the Industrial Disputes Tribunal.
Eccleston has already filed a constitutional motion in the Supreme Court seeking more than three dozen declarations in McLeod’s favour.
“It’s very detailed and it’s very wide. It covers the aspect that he has been denied the right to property under Section 15 of the Constitution by not getting any salary; it covers aspects of the suspension itself and whether an employer ought to be allowed to have someone on suspension indefinitely,” he disclosed.
“It also looks at his legitimate expectation of having a hearing within a reasonable time or having such internal disciplinary matter be dealt with within a short span of time. It also covers mental illness or psychiatric illness or the depression that has come as a result,” said Eccleston, warning that he will be seeking constitutional and aggravated damages against the hotel.
McLeod described how the decision to place him on suspension threw him into an economic and mental tailspin.
“From that time until now, I have been in survival mode, especially because of the nature of the situation and how it unfolded.”
“I think devastated would be the most appropriate word, especially in the earlier part. I have my life to live. I am a young man growing up,” he said.
Gavin Goffe, the attorney for Iberostar Beach Hotel, confirmed that McLeod was sent on leave following an incident in which the credit card of a guest was “compromised”.
“Based on certain investigations which have been done, another employee had been charged. As we were told by the police, that employee had indicated that Marlon McLeod was part of the [alleged] fraud,” Goffe asserted.
He acknowledged, however, that the case against the other employee was dismissed by the court because the guest did not return to the island to give evidence.
“As it stands right now, the matter having been thrown out against [the other employee], there is still no resolution of the facts because the fraud did occur,” Goffe insisted.
“There is still no comfort to the hotel to know that it still does not know whether its employees were involved in the fraud or not.”
Goffe said that the hotel’s position was further compounded by McLeod going back on a commitment to give a statement to police investigators.
“The initial position taken by Mr McLeod and his attorney was that they would be happy to give a statement to the police because he wanted to clear his name,” Goffe told The Gleaner.
The Iberostar attorney said that he provided Eccleston with the telephone number of the police constable probing the alleged fraud. “Then they went and met with him, then said they were not giving a statement,” he said, while acknowledging that it was within McLeod’s right not to give the police a statement.
“That is part of the issue that created a problem for the company.”
But Eccleston disputed this assertion, saying no one wrote to him or his client about giving a statement to the police. Despite this, he said that he and McLeod met with the police investigator in January 2017 and were told that the former assistant guest services manager had been implicated in the alleged fraud by a co-worker.
However, he said court documents received from the attorney for the co-worker “made no mention of my client in any statement”.
“There was no mention of my client in the Q&A, but most importantly, she [attorney for the co-worker] told me that the case was dismissed from the year before,” he revealed.
Eccleston said that as a result, he wrote to then acting Police Commissioner Novelette Grant and, later, her successor, George Quallo, about the allegations against his client.
“By letter dated June 9, 2017, then Commissioner of Police George Fitzroy Quallo wrote to me and said … there is no ongoing investigation involving your client, Mr Marlon McLeod,” Eccleston said, quoting from the letter.
Goffe said that one of the sticking points for the near four-year suspension is McLeod’s demand that he be reinstated and paid for the time he was separated from his job.
“We are saying there is no way we are going to be paying you all this money; it’s not our fault,” he reasoned.
“If he had given the statement to the police, I suspect that we would not have been here today. So, I am not trying to say perhaps my client could not have done things differently somewhere along the line, but the fact that we are here cannot be blamed entirely on one party.”