Fired professor sues American University of the Caribbean

POSTED: 10/27/11 12:25 PM

Cayman-construction again under scrutiny

St. Maarten – The Cayman-construction the American University of the Caribbean in Cupecoy uses to pay the salaries of its faculty members came under scrutiny again yesterday morning during a court case of former faculty Lockie Johnson against the university. The professor was fired on January 28; she works now for a much lower salary at the American School of Medicine in Saba. Johnson demands compensation and wants to establish that her dismissal was unreasonable.
The American University paid Johnson and other faculties almost half of their salaries through a company in the Cayman Islands. When Johnson was fired on February 28, she still had until May 31 on her contract. But over that period, the university stopped paying the Cayman-component of her salary.
Judge mr. D.M. Thierry asked the professor what her duties had been. “Teaching and working with the students,” she answered. “I never did any research or consulting off-island. I believe this was a construction to evade wage-taxes.”
mr. C.J. Koster, the attorney for the university, stated emphatically that “the tax inspectorate of the Netherlands Antilles has ruled that the Cayman-part of the salaries cannot be considered taxable wages.”
mr. Thierry wondered about this. “How did that work? Did Mrs. Johnson do any research for the entity in the Cayman-islands and when did she do that? In the evening? During her weekends?”
mr. Koster did not have a clear answer to those questions, those later he submitted that the professor had written four books during her 12-year tenure at the university.
Johnson’s attorney mr. W.A. van Sambeek told the court that his client had never been to the Cayman-islands. “This was just a way to lower the tax pressure for the university,” he said.
The court case also deals with the grounds for Johnson’s dismissal. In May, when Johnson files summary proceedings to fight her dismissal, Judge mr. R.W.J. van Veen ruled that the dismissal was not unreasonable. “The dismissal letter shows that the plaintiff has expressed dissatisfaction with her work in the past, and especially since her husband’s dismissal,” he wrote in his ruling in May.
mr. Van Sambeek however, maintained yesterday that the dismissal was unreasonable. “The university tries to make my client look bad, but she was a well functioning professor. The university suggests that a demotion was in the works but that is not true; she was promoted to a full professorship. It is ridiculous to say that she was not functioning.”
mr. Koster countered that Johnson is the first faculty who was ever fired by the university. “Nobody received as many warnings as she did. She really went too far.”
In May the university charged that the relationship between the university and Johnson soured after the AUC fired the professor’s husband on questionable grounds last year. The university argues that the professor’s behavior became untenable and that, anyway, her performance was below par.
Judge Thierry will pronounce his verdict on November 23.

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