Ex-WASA manager threatens lawsuit over dismissal

The content originally appeared on: Trinidad and Tobago Newsday

WASA Caroni water treatment plant. – File photo

THE former head of procurement at the Water and Sewerage Authority (WASA) is challenging her alleged wrongful dismissal.

On June 24, Arlene Johnson Lawrence’s attorney Richard Jaggasar issued a pre-action protocol letter.

Lawrence, 57, was WASA’s head of procurement from 2019 to 2021. Before that, she was a programme manager and site manager at the Ministry of Public Utilities.

Jaggasar said Lawrence’s employment contract with WASA was silent on termination or without notice period.

When her last written contract ended in April 2021, Lawrence was asked to continue in her post and given three-month extensions up to January 2024.

However, Jaggasar said Lawrence was dismissed on January 17, 2024, in a letter from the acting director of human resources. He said the letter was disguised as a notice of expiration of her contract.

He said there were inconsistencies with the dismissal/notice of non-renewal letter, which he sought clarification on.

He also said the alleged “notice period” of December 31, 2023, to January 18, 2024, was “wholly unreasonable and untenable.”

“The letter does not specify that there is a notice period at all. It should confirm whether the notice period has been given and, more importantly, whether payment is made in lieu of notice, particularly if this aligns with the statutory or contractual obligations.”

He also said the letter did not say if Lawrence would be paid outstanding wages, unused vacation pay, severance pay and other entitlements, including gratuity, group health and outstanding professional and club fees.

Jaggasar said Lawrence’s contract was “consistently and consecutively renewed,” and there was reason to believe it would be for another two years. He said the position was only recently advertised with the minimum qualifications lowered.

He said the legal framework behind the continuity of employment supported the idea that an employee may be deemed a permanent employee after continuous renewal of fixed-term contracts.

Jaggasar reminded that Lawrence’s contract was “continuously and consecutively” renewed. He said she ought to have been deemed a permanent worker and given a reasonable notice period.

Jaggasar said Lawrence also intends to claim entitlement for the two-year contractual term with a base salary of $49,172.72 plus an additional $4,000 in benefits or a total of $1.33 million as well as $275,000 in exemplary damages.

On June 18, Public Utilities Minister Marvin Gonzales said WASA would hire nine new managers to its executive team as part of the proposed restructuring of the authority.