Prison officer in court again over new investigation of fall 20 years ago

The content originally appeared on: Trinidad and Tobago Newsday

Favianna Gajadhar, of Arima, has been granted leave to pursue her newest legal claim. –

A prison officer who has already been awarded more than $3.5 million after a 15-year legal battle with the Public Service Commission (PSC) over being declared to have abandoned her job after missing work for several months due to injury and pregnancy has again sued the State.

On January 26, Justice Frank Seepersad granted leave to Favianna Gajadhar, of Arima, to pursue her newest claim against the Commissioner of Prisons and the Attorney General.

Gajadhar previously filed four claims dating back to 2010. In October 2023, Seepersad held that her rights were violated and ordered compensation for the breaches.

The majority of the compensation represented the $2,821,744.54 in salary and benefits she would have received had she not been improperly terminated by the PSC.

Gajadhar was awarded $125,000 for the distress and inconvenience she suffered and $150,000 for her loss of the chance of being promoted during the period before she was eventually reinstated.

Seepersad also ordered $350,000 in damages to vindicate the breaches of Gajadhar’s rights.

That decision was appealed by the State and is pending.

In her latest lawsuit, Gajadhar is challenging the decision of the prison boss to investigate her claim of falling at the condemned division of the women’s prison on November 15, 2004, and her absence from duty from November 15, 2004-January 7, 2005 and January 8, 2005-February 16, 2005.

Her lawsuit alleged that after Seepersad’s ruling in 2023, she was told of a fresh investigation looking into her absence from duty for the two periods in 2004 and 2005.

It said she wrote to the commissioner calling for the investigation to be terminated as it was “manifestly unfair and prejudicial” to her since her memory would have faded over the last two decades.

“The claimant has been engaged in litigation surrounding this issue of her “resignation” for over 15 years. She has been successful at each and every step of this marathon journey for justice but every time she succeeds, the COP or the PSC appeals or raises a new issue that causes/leads to further litigation, which she can ill afford.

“She has been forced to take legal action to vindicate her legal rights and defend appeals by the COP and PSC while not receiving a salary for over 15 years during the period 2007 to 2022,” the lawsuit contends.

“The conduct of the state is oppressive, manifestly unfair, arbitrary and irrational. It is contrary to the rule of law because it seeks to undermine the integrity of several High Court and Court of Appeal judgments in her favour and has the potential to bring the administration of justice into disrepute.

“It is a constant disingenuous shifting of the goalpost that is clearly designed to penalise the applicant in retaliation for her daring to stand up for her legal rights, and the embarrassing defeats the COP, the PSC and the State have suffered. It reeks of mala fides,” it continued.

Gajadhar is now asking the court to declare that the decision of the commissioner is illegal, irrational, unfair, null and void. She also wants the court to quash the decision to initiate the new investigation or have it permanently stayed. She is also seeking damages, including vindicatory damages, in this latest round of legal action.

Gajadhar, who joined the Prison Service in 2000, suffered a back injury and was absent from duty for extended periods between 2004 and 2006.

Gajadhar became pregnant during the period and sought to resume her duties three months after her daughter was born in June 2006. She was barred by her supervisor, who indicated that she could not resume her duties as she had not properly accounted for the periods of her absence.

While Gajadhar claimed she submitted her sick leave and maternity leave certificates, the PSC still declared that she had effectively resigned from her post in June 2007, as she was absent without leave from April 2006 to then.

Gajadhar filed a judicial review case against the commission, which was upheld by the High Court and the Court of Appeal, who ordered it (the PSC) to reconsider.

The commission reconsidered the issue in November 2017 and stood by its initial decision, albeit for a different reason: an issue with Gajadhar’s maternity leave application under the Maternity Benefit Act.

Gajadhar filed another lawsuit against the second decision, which was also upheld by the High Court and Court of Appeal.

The PSC considered the case for the third time and reinstated Gajadhar in April last year. However, she was not paid her outstanding salary and benefits for the past 15 years as the PSC instructed the prisons’ commissioner to do so by “classifying” her absence from duty.

The PSC then accepted that Gajadhar was owed her outstanding salary and benefits.

She is represented by Anand Ramlogan, SC, Jayanti Lutchmedial, Kent Samlal and Natasha Bisram.