Court denies attorney’s claim for damages: Departure-policy makes labor contract invalid

POSTED: 01/20/15 8:37 PM

St. Maarten – Eight days before Justice Minister Roland Duncan left office on May 18, 2013 he granted attorney Ellen Knoppel a permanent labor contract. The incoming government however – Wescot-Williams III – considered the contract invalid, arguing that this was part of so-called departure policy and it fired the attorney. Knoppel went to court, demanding 20,000 guilders (around $11,175) in damages for unjust dismissal. Yesterday the Court in First Instance denied the claim, because it sees no reason to get ahead of next week Wednesday’s ruling by the Common Court of Justice in a regular procedure on the case.

Knoppel based her claim on an interim ruling the court pronounced on November 5 of last year and in which it said that the dismissal was unreasonable.

However, yesterday the court arrived in summary proceedings at a different conclusion: the conversion of the attorney’s temporary contract into a permanent one on May 10, 2013 “is the result of the so-called departure-policy.” The court ruled that this “violates the public order and the morality” and noted that the new contract is invalid. “Already for this reason the claim cannot be granted.”

The court furthermore ruled that there are no reasons why a definite decision cannot wait until the ruling in the regular procedure on January 21. “The fact that Knoppel has to go abroad for medical treatment does not change this judgment, also because the Country has made it sufficiently plausible that Knoppel is working as an attorney and therefore has sufficient funds at her disposal.” The court ruled that there are insufficient reasons to get ahead of the judgment of the Common Court of Justice.

Knoppel had furthermore argued during a hearing that she was also entitled to compensation for vacation days she did not take during her tenure at the Ministry of Justice. The court rejected it because the basis for her claim is the unjust dismissal, not the unpaid vacation days.

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