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Judge: Some unfairness, but no discrimination against Govt vet applicant

A 16-year discrimination case by government vet applicant Susann Smith has been turned down by Supreme Court.

But the ruling by Puisne Judge Stephen Hellman criticised procedures used at the time Dr Smith, a black Bermudian woman, tried to get the top veterinary post.

Mr Justice Hellman also noted that “contrary to the fears of the Veterinary Association, the sky has not fallen” since changes in Bermuda’s licensing restrictions made Dr Smith eligible to practise here.

He added: “I have no doubt from the evidence before me that, had Dr Smith been appointed as GVO [government veterinary officer], she would have been successful in the post. The court wishes her well.”

Dr Smith, who represented herself in court, had been appealing the dismissal of her case by the Human Rights Board.

She argued that requirements used to turn down her 1993 and 1997 applications for the top veterinary post had been fabricated to favour the interests of Bermuda’s white-dominated veterinary profession.

Specifically, Dr Smith maintained that the stipulation for a GVO applicant to pass North American and UK exams hadn’t existed until she tried to get the job.

Mr Justice Hellman noted that Dr Smith might have had “a good arguable case that the selection process was procedurally unfair” if it had been taken before judicial review.

The judge also wrote: “Irrespective of whether the certification requirement was discriminatory, if certification was a requirement for the post then the advertisement should have said so in unambiguous terms. I do not accept that the need for certification was necessarily implicit in the term ‘veterinarian’.”

While he found no discrimination in a case cited by Dr Smith as an example of the racist treatment of a black Bermudian applicant, Mr Justice Hellman called the Public Service Commission’s handling of that 1990 matter “sloppy and discourteous”.

The judge pointed out that while Dr Smith’s repeated failure to pass the exams might appear “surprising”, she’d explained that a medical condition “affected her ability to concentrate and focus at the relevant times”.

However, the fact that the GVO post went in 1997 to fellow black Bermudian Jonathan Nisbett also detracted from Dr Smith’s case, Mr Justice Hellman concluded.

The ruling found flaws and unfairness in the denial of Dr Smith’s local registration — along with some reasonable concerns.

But the judge could not be satisfied that the reason Dr Smith had been “treated less favourably was because of her colour or national origin”.

Dr Smith has been eligible to practise in Bermuda since 2010.

Dr Susann Smith

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Published May 25, 2013 at 9:00 am (Updated May 25, 2013 at 8:31 am)

Judge: Some unfairness, but no discrimination against Govt vet applicant

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