Former Miss Bermuda Ross in employment row with Buzz
Former Miss Bermuda Heather Ross is at the centre of a battle for compensation and human rights after she was accused of being a drug addict by an anonymous source.
Hired as an assistant manager at the Buzz outlet at Collector’s Hill Gas Station, Ms Ross was fast-tracked for promotion to night manager in February. But the job was short-lived once she was told that a reliable source questioned how someone with a criminal record for drugs could work there.
She was ordered to take a drug test but did not do so after her lawyer advised that she was not legally obliged to do so on the basis of hearsay.
Ms Ross was taken off the work schedule, but to date she has received nothing in writing from Buzz owner Holger Eiselt. She took her case to the Human Rights Commission and the Department of Labour and Training where negotiations for compensation were initiated.
In an interview, she said the talks dropped off and her main bone of contention is she is still being punished for a crime committed three decades ago.
In 1982, Ms Ross pleaded guilty to smuggling cocaine into Britain from Amsterdam and was sentenced to three years at Reading Crown Court in the UK. In Britain for the Miss World contest she was arrested at Heathrow Airport with a kilogramme (2.2lbs) of cocaine with a street value of $316,000.
The court was told she acted as a courier for an international drug ring and that she was promised $20,000 payment for her role. The drugs were found hidden in the false bottom of a suitcase.
Ms Ross, 53, was hired by Buzz in December last year. On February 12 she was approached by Mr Eiselt who took her outside to say someone told him in confidence that she was a drug addict. Despite trying to move on with her life since then, she said her past is still waved like a flag.
“He had already set up an appointment for the following morning. I had no problem with taking the test, but I already had appointments for the following day before my shift,” said Ms Ross.
When she reported for work the next day she was told to call the main office. When she did, she was told that Mr Holger said until she did what he said, she was off the schedule.
“It was at that point that I said this is not right, I can’t keep going through this, jumping through hoops whenever people want. Just three days earlier he was singing my praises and I was the greatest thing since sliced cheese.
“I decided that I have to take a stance now because at any point somebody can come up and make accusations that affect my life and livelihood, now I’m unemployed because of all of this.
“People can say what they like and have their opinion but for him to take up that stance based on hearsay is incomprehensible especially when he had no problem with my work or work ethic.”
At one point during the subsequent negotiations she said Buzz offered her a job at a different location. Her lawyer Rick Woolridge advised her that she was not legally obligated to take a drug test based on “hearsay or bullying”.
“He informed them that had they had a problem with me on the job, there would be no problem with a drug test, but that was not the case,” she said.
“Mr Holger said I have to understand his position, that he has to protect himself and that he doesn’t know me from Adam. I told him that 80 percent of his staff are invited guest workers. He doesn’t know them from Adam so what’s the difference?
“I need to be compensated, I have health needs and I think at this point working at Buzz would place me in a hostile environment. Other than my medication I am not using any illegal drugs and my drug history dates back to when I was 21.”
Mr Eiselt agreed to an interview then referred the matter to the company’s lawyer, Richard Horseman, who issued a statement on behalf of Take Five Ltd. He denied that Ms Ross was terminated because of her criminal record as alleged.
“Our client was acutely aware of Ms Ross’ conviction when the company hired her and this was a non-issue. If it had been an issue, Take Five would have not hired Ms Ross in the first place,” said Mr Horseman.
“Ms Ross was subject to a 90-day probation period during which an employer is entitled to terminate an employee for any reason and without notice. We do not intend to litigate this matter in the press. Suffice to say our client has abided by the law and will answer any case Ms Ross may choose to bring in the appropriate forum, suffice to say, our client denies any wrongdoing whatsoever.”
This newspaper asked whether Buzz had a drug policy, but we received no response by press time.
Ms Ross said her conviction was never the issue. “We’re in the 21st century where our Government is fast considering gay rights and we still haven’t managed to get a handle on basic human rights,” she said.
“I want the persecution, bullying and name calling stopped; especially in a supposedly professional environment. They are given the ability to get away with all sorts of violations when I’m being held to a completely different standard. Until we rectify these dual duplicities in basic living standards then we can’t get anywhere.”