High Court awards Otto Sam almost $65,000 in damages
December 23, 2016
High Court awards Otto Sam almost $65,000 in damages

The High Court has ordered that the Government pay former headteacher Otto Sam almost $65,000 in damages; after it determined that he had been “unfairly and wrongfully” dismissed by the Public Service Board of Appeal (PSBA).

In a post on his Facebook page, Jomo Thomas, counsel for Sam, said in a decision delivered on December 12, 2016, Master Raulston Glasgow awarded the following damages: {{more}}1. Annual duty allowance of $2,400; 2. Difference in salary $24,000; 3. Vindicatory award $30,000; 4. Prescribed cost $8,520; 5. Total award of $64,920 at 5 per cent per annum from December 12, 2016.

Thomas also said the Master justified his order of a Vindicatory award as follows: “In the instant situation, a highly qualified educator was arbitrarily removed from his office and unceremoniously deposited in another office for which he was not qualified or equipped. He was left for some time to beseech his superiors for the tools and responsibilities of office and was later assigned tasks not commensurate with his training, qualifications and experience. He was sent off on 90 days leave for which he did not apply. A fair and substantial sum must be awarded to vindicate the breach of the constitutional rights afforded to him.”

On October 20, 2016, High Court judge Esco Henry ruled that the PSBA’s decision to dismiss the former head teacher was “illogical, unreasonable, unlawful, arrived at in an unfair and procedurally improper manner and disproportionate.” She also said that Sam was “unfairly and wrongfully dismissed by the PSBA”.

The judge ruled that Sam “never ceased to be entitled to hold the office of head teacher in the Ministry of Education and he is and has remained so entitled.”

The court, therefore quashed the PSBA’s decision to dismiss Sam and ordered that he is entitled to: (1) receive the portion of his salary which was deducted during his interdiction between August 7, 2012 and May 15, 2013; (2) his full pay, all increases and benefits that accrued to him and which are due and payable to him in his capacity as head teacher, benefits from the date of his dismissal on May 15, 2013, including his pension and gratuity (3) damages for unfair or wrongful dismissal and (4) interest on the said sums at the statutory rate of 6 per cent per annum from the date of this judgment until payment.

On Wednesday, May 15, 2013, Sam was relieved of his position as head teacher of the South Rivers Methodist School. He was also relieved of his assignment at the National Emergency Management Office (NEMO).

Before that, in August 2012, Sam was suspended with half pay, as a disciplinary inquiry was instituted against him, for the letters he wrote to local media, on July 24, 2012. He was at the time assigned to NEMO.

Sam had been transferred to NEMO on August 30, 2010 from the South Rivers Methodist School, where he was head teacher. At the time of his transfer, the former president of the St Vincent and the Grenadines Teachers’ Union had been a teacher for 30 years.

Sam’s transfer to NEMO followed an unannounced visit made to the South Rivers Methodist School by Prime Minister Dr Ralph Gonsalves on March 21, 2010. SEARCHLIGHT understands that during that visit, Gonsalves did not first report to the head teacher’s office, which is the policy of the Ministry of Education for all visitors to academic institutions.

Gonsalves is the parliamentary representative for North Central Windward, which includes South Rivers.

Following the visit of the Prime Minister to the school, Sam wrote to Gonsalves, pointing out the alleged flouting of the Ministry’s directive. The chief education officer, it is said, then asked Sam to apologize to the Prime Minister, which Sam refused to do. He was then transferred to NEMO.