Ruling on ex-UTT provost’s wrongful dismissal lawsuit in January

The content originally appeared on: Trinidad and Tobago Newsday

Dr Fazal Ali.

Former provost and acting president of the University of Trinidad and Tobago (UTT) Dr Fazal Ali will know the outcome of his lawsuit against the university for wrongful dismissal in January.

In May 2015, Ali was given a new three-year contract, but shortly after a new board was appointed after the general election in September that year, his performance was reviewed. He was fired from the university on September 21, 2017.

Ali said he was advised that the board of governors had formed the view that he “misconducted himself by mismanaging the academic business of the university and failed to act in its best interest.”

On Monday, Ali testified at his four-hour-long trial before Justice Frank Seepersad. Also testifying for the university was its corporate secretary Dorwin Manzano.

At the end of the hearing, Seepersad gave attorneys for Ali and the university until January 9, 2023, to file submissions. He said he will give his ruling on January 23.

Ali, a former Teaching Service Commission chairman, first joined the UTT in May 2012. As provost, he oversaw the academic community, curriculum content, exams and student discipline. A month later, he was asked to act as president of the UTT and did so for a year. His contract was extended for another three years, starting May 14, 2015.

Ali said on January 30, 2016, a newspaper reporter contacted him for comment on his suspension, although at the time, he said he knew nothing about it.

He said he called the then-president Prof Dyer Narinesingh, and was told “it was true” and he could go to the O’Meara campus to collect his etter of suspension.

Ali also said he received a call from the corporate secretary telling him the board was distressed because he had spoken with the newspaper reporter.

He said his suspension was reported on January 31, 2016, causing him “a great deal of professional and personal embarrassment and loss of reputation in the academic and national community.”

Ali said he received letters from the university indicating he had been put on administrative leave to facilitate an audit and in June 2016, the president told him certain matters relating to his performance had been brought to the board’s attention. These included the recruitment of three people; the failure to renew the contracts of two others; and personal security arrangements. He said his attorney provided the university with detailed responses but on November 14, 2016, he was told three disciplinary charges were being laid against him. These involved the separation of the two lecturers and the recruitment of an assistant vice president.

Ali said from December 2016-June 2017, he appeared before the tribunal, led by former VP of the Industrial Court Gregory Baker, and by September 21, 2017, he was dismissed.

In his lawsuit, Ali claimed the university’s board acted unfairly and unreasonably when it dismissed him on the basis of his alleged failure to act in its best interest in terms of human-resource management during his tenure.

He contended it was never his decision not to renew the contracts of the two lecturers, because it was not in his purview to advise the board, and that he had a minor role in not renewing the contracts, as that fell within the remit of its vice president of human resources and the previous board.

Ali said he was merely asked whether the absence of the two would affect the university’s ongoing academic programmes and that his opinion was consistent with that of several other senior staff members.

Denying any misconduct on his part, Ali said the allegations against him did not justify his dismissal, nor was it in accordance with good industrial-relations practices.

In his testimony, Ali said he was shocked when he received the call from the reporter. He also spoke of his reaction when he received the letter of suspension,

“Here I had a letter telling me I was guilty of something I had nothing to do with at all.”

Manzano disagreed with a suggestion that the alleged conduct warranted Ali’s dismissal and said the decision to fire him was based on the findings of the tribunal.

Through his claim, Ali is seeking almost $800,000 in compensation, which represents the salary and benefits he would have received for the remaining eight months of his contract.

At the time of his termination, Ali’s monthly remuneration package included a salary of $55,000, a $10,000 vehicle allowance and an $11,000 housing allowance.

Ali is being represented by Senior Counsel Russell Martineau and Fyard Hosein and attorneys Anjali Maharaj and Aadam Hosein. Stephen Singh represented UTT.