(CNS): A British woman who was a long-time friend of the prison director was given preferential treatment when she was employed at HMP Northward as a manager in 2014 compared to her colleagues. Nina White, who has since left the service after getting embroiled in the ‘videogate’ scandal at the jail, was paid over $1,000 a year more than other prison managers, received higher pension contributions and a car upkeep allowance, even though she may not have had a car.
As a result of what appeared to be unjustified favouritism, White’s male colleagues took the case to the Gender Employment Tribunal, which recently delivered its ruling and found in the men’s favour. The gender tribunal found that the complaint brought by Stephen Cuthbert Atherley, Peter Andrew Foster, Marlon Dane Thomas Hodgson and Ricardo Hugh Patrick Lashley was substantiated and submissions on damages are expected from them before the month end.
The men who filed the complaint were all experienced prison managers and all of them were undertaking duties that were very similar to those performed by White. But the decision of the tribunal (posted in the CNS Library), which was based on issue of gender discrimination, appears to indicate that White received special favours because of her long-time friendship with the prison boss as much as because she was a woman.
White was interviewed and secured her post at the same time as Steven Hansen, another employee at the prison, both having applied for two vacant management posts. But from the get-go the inequality was apparent, as Hansen was employed on a lower starting point on the salary scale than his new colleague.
But White was on a higher rate than her new existing colleagues as well, which officials from the prison and home affairs ministry had claimed was down to White’s experience, qualifications and interview performance. This contrasted with the austerity measures that had kept pay for all existing prison employees stagnant.
Despite the claims about White’s experience when she applied for the post, she was working in a coffee shop, having left the UK prison service. In emails with the prison she also confirmed that she did not have specific experience in the role she intended to take. Hansen, on the other hand, who was also British and originally recruited to Northward from the UK system, already had several years experience working as an officer in the Cayman Islands at the prison.
The tribunal ruling also reveals that it was not until White was shortlisted for interview for the management vacancies that Prison Director Neil Lavis revealed that she was a family friend.
He told the tribunal that he had familiarised himself with the Public Service Management Law and Code of Conduct and the requirement to disclose and take steps to avoid conflicts of interest and that he must not use his official position for personal or familial gain.
Lavis had known White very well for several years and she had been a member of his staff in the United Kingdom from 2000 until 2004. He stated that he had told the other members of the interview panel that he knew White and that they did not think it prevented him from being part of the interview panel.
However, the tribunal found that there was no mention in the interview notes or elsewhere about his friendship and they questioned why Lavis had not mentioned the matter in the two affidavits he swore for the tribunal.
“Against this background, the majority of the tribunal has struggled with the credibility of Mr Lavis, particularly when coupled with a failure to disclose in either of his affidavits that prior to the interview, he had escorted Ms White on a visit to the prison,” the tribunal stated in its finding.
The members of the tribunal also noted that they were not satisfied with his account of why these matters had been initially omitted. “It was also notable that Mr Lavis had not mentioned that his wife, who was a close friend of Ms White, was at the time working as a consultant for the Ministry of Home Affairs,” they stated.
During the hearing the prison service argued that “the sex, marital status, or gender of the complainants” had not impacted decisions about their pay, and that the men were paid less because of budgetary and policy constraints. However, the majority of the tribunal members “did not consider that this was genuine”, the ruling states.
The tribunal found that Hansen and White were of equal value to the employer, but White was being placed on a salary scale of Grade J, Point 6, while Hansen was being offered a very similar position on a salary scale of Grade J, Point 4, “notwithstanding that there appear to have been no significant differences in their experience and qualifications and only a comparatively small difference in their respective scores with the Interview Panel”.
The tribunal concluded that the reasons offered by the prison for the difference were not established as genuine based on the evidence. They pointed to a lack of real differential in experience between White and the complainants as well as Hansen, as they found in the men’s favour.
Although the complainants and Hansen are still working at the prison, White is no longer with the service. It is understood that she parted company with the prison after she was suspended, on full pay, in the now infamous scandal involving covert video equipment and allegations of inappropriate behaviour at the jail last year.
CNS understands that White then went to work at a well-known local security firm.
See full tribunal ruling in the CNS Library