Hotel, former manager spa-rring

by Shawn Cumberbatch

World-famous Sandy Lane Hotel is in the middle of a protracted legal battle with one of its former managers who sued the company over her “constructive dismissal”.

sandylanehotelAlmost three years after Barbados’ Court of Appeal overturned a magistrate’s court decision, and agreed that the St. James luxury property’s former Director of Spa & Leisure, Brigitte Laurayne, was placed in an untenable position when a better qualified colleague was hired, the Caribbean Court of Justice has agreed to take on the case.

But while Sandy Lane via it’s legal team successfully argued its application to appeal last Monday at the CCJ’s Trinidad headquarters, indications are that Laurayne, whose monthly salary was $10,000 plus “significant perks and bonuses” will be seeking more money in damages.

After each scored court victories at different levels in Barbados, counsel for the Sandy lane and Laurayne will now be seeking to get a final judgment from the island’s highest appellate court.

Attorney-at-law Satcha Kissoon, who spoke on the hotel’s behalf during the CCJ application brought by his client, told the court there had been no breaches in the contract between the company and Laurayne.

“When the Court of Appeal conducted the hearing the transcript suggests to us that they started off, in our view, on the correct direction,” Kissoon submitted.

“They were definitely taking on board the relevant tests, they were looking at the evidence, they were testing it with counsel for the respondent at that time, who was appellant then, and there seemed to be an understanding of what the contract was. But when we come to the decision we see what I would submit is a falling apart of the test and what the facts really were.”

Kissoon also suggested that rather than pushing her out of her job, Sandy Lane was in fact ensuring it maintained its reputation as a world class hotel, which included hiring the most qualified and competent staff.

“This is not a mom and pop shop operation, this is Sandy Lane Hotel, a five diamond resort and it is a growing resort and they have a commercial interest in ensuring that their entity operates at the standard that they wish it to be, and Mrs. Laurayne would have been fully aware of that, having a responsibility for 35 people overall,” he said.

“You cannot have an increasing organisation and stay with the same manpower and the same confines that have obviously caused problems because it is within the context of problems that this issue arose.

“It wasn’t to say that without any indication as the respondent alleges, or out of the blue that a consideration is given to someone coming in to assist her in this role… It was made clear to Mrs. Laurayne that she was to retain overall responsibility,” he added.

Kissoon said the Court of Appeal here “came too quickly to reversing a decision without first finding that it was unsound”.

But Laurayne’s counsel, attorney-at-law Brian Weekes, countered that the way the hiring of an individual in his client’s department was done was in fact akin to her constructive dismissal.

“We say that the facts scenario in this whole circumstance where Mrs. Layrayne is told what she’s told, the exercise is gone through in the way that it is gone through, the offer of the level two job …, the fact that this person is coming in with superior skills, all of these things we say could lead or should have led and did in fact lead to a loss in Mrs. Laurayne in the trust and confidence which she was to repose in her employer and to be mirrored by her employer to her,” he said.

“It would have been open to her to feel, we submit, that her employer had lost confidence in her, they did not have confidence in her ability to do what was necessary to take the spa to the next level.”

Weekes also said that his client was deserving of a larger monetary court settlement.

“You have a person who has been employed for eight years, you have a person mitigated her damage. In her evidence she said ‘I sent out my CVs, I took a job when it came along, it paid me $3,000 a month at the beginning, whereas she was making $10,000 with significant perks and bonuses and so on and so forth’.

So we say that when you analyse the factors that the court ought to have looked at in this case, a person of her level,” he said in reference to the Court of Appeal.

“Whether we win or lose on liability clearly there must be an increased quantum of damages in the even that she is successful.”

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