Court awards Bas Roorda damages for unreasonable dismissal

POSTED: 12/20/11 5:15 PM

St. Maarten – The dismissal of acting head of the finance department Bas Roorda per May 1 of this year was “apparently unreasonable.” The Court in First Instance ruled yesterday that the country has to pay Roorda 25,000 guilders in damages.
The fact that Roorda filed a criminal complaint at the prosecutor’s office on March 31 against employees at the Tourist Bureau is not the exclusive reason for his dismissal, Judge mr. R.W.J. van Veen wrote in his ruling. “It was the proverbial drop that made the bucket overflow.”
mr. Van Veen pointed out that reporting a criminal act is a legal obligation and that this can never be that proverbial drop. “With the immediate termination of the contract – combined with a suspension for the remaining short period of that contract – shortly after Roorda reported possible criminal acts, the country violated the requirements of good employership. That amounts to an apparent unreasonable dismissal.”

The court based the damages the country has to pay to Roorda on the reasonability criterion, but it saw no reason to also award damages for the consequences of Roorda’s dismissal. The court rejected the plaintiff’s demand for a bit more than 270,000 guilders in damages.
Judge van Veen established in his ruling that the finance minister is entitled to dismiss employees based on the accountability Ordinance. “When a minister has entered into a financial obligation (like a labor contract) the minister is entitled to conduct civil law actions that result from this obligation like terminating a labor contract).”
The court also established that Roorda was not entitled to share information with the financial supervisor Cft on his own. “The country is obliged to give all necessary information to the Cft, not every random civil servant or contract laborer on his own. They are also not subordinate to the Cft.”

On the other hand the court remarked that Roorda did not get any written warnings or instructions that he had to refrain from maintaining contacts with the Cft. The court also noted that there is no written proof that Roorda as head of the finance department had been appointed as the Cft-contact. Former Finance Commissioner Xavier Blackman and former Cft-secretary Geert Bergsma both told this newspaper in the past that Roorda was the Cft-contact.
Judge Van Veen however, wrote in his ruling that “justice is done based on documents in the case file and not on newspaper reports or press releases.”
This remark referred to a press statement by Justice Minister Roland Duncan who told newspapers that Roorda had been fired for insubordination. But mr. Van Veen did not take this into account because the content of the newspaper report was contested by the country.

As far as Roorda’s contact with the Cft is concerned, the court ruled that he should have known that the 2011 budget and the positive Cft-advice “was a political sensitive issue.” For this reason alone, Mr. Van Veen ruled, “he should not have discussed the back-service obligations in APNA pensions outside his direct superior (Secretary General Sherry Hazel – ed.) and the minister.”
The court rejected the country’s position that there was no labor contract with Roorda, because the agreement between parties refers to articles from the civil code about labor contracts.

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