October 05 2011
In June 2001 Mayan King terminated six employees at its banana farms. The employees applied to the Supreme Court for relief, alleging that their termination was discriminatory and illegal, and contravened the provisions of the Trade Unions and Employers' Organisations (Registration, Recognition and Status) Act. On July 20 2009 Justice Awich determined that the employees were dismissed for the purpose of thwarting unionisation, which is in direct contravention of the act. He further held that the dismissals breached the employees' constitutional rights and awarded damages of $70,000 to each.
Mayan King appealed the decision to the Court of Appeal. The court upheld Awich's decision, in that it considered there to be sufficient evidence by which to conclude that the six employees had been dismissed in contravention of the act. However, the court determined that the employees' constitutional rights had not been breached and that Awich had therefore erred in awarding damages for breach of constitutional rights. The court instead determined that the act had created a new cause of action which empowered the court to give relief that is "just and equitable". The court therefore awarded the sum of $30,000 to each employee as compensation for injury to pride or feelings, in addition to compensation for loss of earnings for one year.
This Court of Appeal decision appears to be contrary to long-established principles which provide that a person cannot be awarded damages for injury to feelings. Furthermore, there was no evidence regarding each employee's period of employment following dismissal: the Court of Appeal arbitrarily selected the period of one year for the assessment of damages. In the March 2011 session of the Court of Appeal, Mayan King successfully obtained leave to appeal the decision to the Caribbean Court of Justice – Belize's highest appeal court. This is only the second time that a substantive appeal from Belize has reached the Caribbean Court of Justice.
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