Thu | Feb 25, 2021

Appeals court rules against ATL in dismissal of former pension fund manager

Published:Saturday | January 16, 2021 | 7:18 AM

A unanimous Court of Appeal on Friday upheld a decision of the Industrial Disputes Tribunal (IDT) that Catherine Barber was “unjustifiably” dismissed in 2011 by the ATL Pension Fund for which she was general manager.

Unless it appeals to the Privy Council, Jamaica’s highest court, the ruling means that Barber will have to be paid compensation to the value of 260 weeks.

The pension fund company is part of Gorstew Limited whose former chairman, Gordon ‘Butch’ Stewart, died earlier this month.

It’s the latest court defeat for the group in cases connected to the payout of almost $2 billion in pension benefits between 1998 and 2008.

Treated unfairly

ATL fired Barber in April 2011 claiming that she was “dishonest” in backdating permissions for the payouts, an assertion the courts and the IDT have rejected.

The IDT ruled in 2015 that Barber was treated unfairly as, among other things, ATL did not grant her a hearing nor did it open disciplinary proceedings.

ATL had also claimed that it did not have to grant a hearing based on the criminal charges brought against Barber and two other ATL executives for allegedly distributing $1.7 billion of interest and withdrawal surpluses to members of the pension scheme without the consent of Gorstew.

However, those charges were tossed in 2014 after a parish judge upheld a no-case submission against Barber and two other former ATL executives, Patrick Lynch and the late Dr Jeffrey Pyne.

In her ruling on Friday, Justice Hilary Phillips, who wrote on behalf of the three-member panel, said ATL did not succeed in any claim that a lower court judge erred in upholding the IDT’s decision.

The judge said the claim by ATL that there was no evidence before the IDT to support a finding that the letters were backdated to appease Stewart and that external lawyer for ATL, Lynda Mair gave affirmative advice, had “no merit whatsoever”.

ATL also failed to convince the appeals court that the lower court judge erred in agreeing that the IDT did not have to give reasons for the award of compensation and that the award to Barber was rational.

Barber was represented by attorneys-at-law Gavin Goffe and Adrian Cotterell of Myers, Fletcher & Gordon.

Hugh Wildman and Jerome Spencer of Phillipson Partners made the case for ATL.