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Sacked childcare worker loses appeal

The Court of Appeal has ruled against childcare worker Cheyra Bell

A childcare worker who got drunk while looking after vulnerable youngsters in care has lost an appeal against her dismissal.

Cheyra Bell was fired in February 2019 as a residential care officer in the Department of Child and Family Services after witnesses described how she was “stumbling”, “vomiting” and “speaking loudly with slurred speech” in front of the children she was looking after.

Ms Bell challenged the sacking in the Supreme Court but lost the civil case in June 2021, when Chief Justice Narinder Hargun found that the matter was handled properly and the admitted facts were enough to justify her dismissal.

A panel of three Court of Appeal judges has now reached the same conclusion, rejecting Ms Bell’s argument that Mr Justice Hargun was wrong to find that the entire disciplinary process was not flawed.

Justice of Appeal Sir Maurice Kay said in a written judgment that Derrick Binns, the Head of the Public Service, conducted a “detailed and rigorous analysis of the evidence and material before him” and “explained how he had come to the conclusion” that gross misconduct had been proved.

The judge added: “I detect no significant unfairness in his approach, nor was there any vitiating error in his imposition of the sanction of summary dismissal.

“This, too, was fully explained and, in … light of the findings, well within the range of reasonable responses of a reasonable employer, given the nature of [Ms Bell’s] responsibilities.”

The judgment described how on June 15, 2018, Ms Bell and colleague Shayne Hollis dropped two adolescents from a DCFS residential facility at Cornerstone Youth Group and then went to the BAA club.

Afterwards, “Witnesses said that [Ms Bell] was ‘stumbling’, ‘vomiting’ and ‘acting very differently, such as speaking loudly with slurred speech’.

“Her eyes were bloodshot and alcohol could be smelled on her breath.”

DCFS director Alfred Maybury wrote to her on July 13, 2018, about the allegation. Ms Bell attended an interview with investigators a few days later, when a union representative said he had advised her not to say anything until “evidence” was provided.

On July 30, she attended an interview alone.

“She initially denied that she had consumed alcohol. Towards the end of the interview, she admitted that she and her colleague had drunk alcohol in the club. She estimated her consumption as ‘Corona beers … about two or three’.”

Later that day, she called one of the investigators to say she knew she had made a bad decision and it had been “very irresponsible”.

The investigators gave a report to acting DCFS director Renée Brown, including details provided by the two children Ms Bell was in charge of on the evening in question and three department employees.

Ms Bell was placed on leave for three months in September 2018, when Ms Brown asked Dr Binns if the allegations merited being treated as gross misconduct. He said they did.

Dr Binns dismissed Ms Bell the following February and she appealed the matter to the Public Service Commission, which upheld his decision.

The Court of Appeal ruling quoted from Dr Binns’s decision letter, which included evidence from the two children that Ms Bell was stumbling when they returned to the residential home and that they heard her vomiting.

The youngsters and a colleague of Ms Bell described how she was slurring her words. The colleague “noted being concerned about Ms Bell on that evening as her behaviours were out of the ordinary and she appeared to be intoxicated. [They] also noted that the residents were awake and privy to all that was transpiring.”

At an appeal hearing last November, Dantae Williams, for Ms Bell, argued that Dr Binns should have recused himself from the disciplinary proceedings after advising Ms Brown that the alleged conduct warranted a potential charge of gross misconduct.

But Sir Maurice wrote that he agreed with the Chief Justice’s finding that Dr Binns was discharging an “institutional or organisational” role in responding to Ms Brown’s query, “without in any way compromising his impartiality”.

Sir Maurice’s judgment was backed by Court of Appeal president Sir Christopher Clarke and appeal justice Geoffrey Bell.

Ms Bell brought her unsuccessful case for judicial review against the Attorney-General, DCFS, the Head of the Public Service and the PSC.

The first three respondents were represented by Lauren Sadler-Best, of the Attorney-General’s Chambers, and Richard Horseman appeared for the PSC.

The Royal Gazette reached out to Ms Bell and the Government for comment, but there was no response by press time.