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Row over Evans ‘firing’ set for court

Fire fighter: a row over the 'firing' of Freddie Evans as Education Commisioner is set to head to the courts (Photograph by Akil Simmons)

Governor, John Rankin, has fired Freddie Evans from his position as education commissioner, it was confirmed yesterday.

But Dr Evans’s lawyer Mark Diel said his sacking came too late to be valid and that the battle would now end up in the courts for a judge to decide.

Mr Diel explained that Dr Evans could be fired by the Governor only inside Dr Evans’s probation period.

He said that confirmation by Mr Rankin of Dr Evans’s dismissal in a letter dated last Friday fell outside his probation, which finished at the end of the past month.

Mr Diel, of Marshall Diel & Myers, wrote in a letter dated on Friday to Public Service Commission lawyers Wakefield Quin: “The Governor had and has no basis to terminate our client’s employment post the end of September.

“We thought we had made this point clear.

“In any event, the Governor has no basis at all to terminate our client’s employment as of October 13.”

Dr Evans last week called for Permanent Secretary to the Ministry of Education, Valerie Robinson-James, to be fired or moved to another role over the bungled bid to fire him.

The latest moves came after an e-mail sent at the start of this month from education ministry Permanent Secretary Robinson-James to school principals and teachers said that Dr Evans “has been relieved of his responsibilities as Commissioner of Education”.

Education bureaucrats, however, were forced into an about-turn just days later and on October 5 wrote that “an administrative error” in correspondence to Dr Evans meant he had not been fired at all.

But the letter to Mr Diel from the PSC added “nor has he been confirmed in his post”.

It said: “The parties should govern themselves accordingly.”

Mr Diel said that the Governor could fire Dr Evans only after “a properly and fairly arrived at” recommendation from the PSC inside the probation period.

A letter from the PSC to Mr Diel dated last Thursday admitted that an earlier letter dated October 2 “did not expressly state” Dr Evans had been fired and as a result the October 5 letter was sent.

However, the PSC apologised for the confusion over the October 5 letter and said: “It was unfortunate that it was sent as the letter of October 2, 2017 clearly implied that the recommendation was to terminate your appointment.

“To ensure there is no further misunderstanding, the Commission would like to inform you that His Excellency the Governor, upon the recommendation of the PSC, has terminated your appointment to the above-mentioned post with the Bermuda Government effective immediately”.

The letter repeated an offer from the PSC to return Dr Evans to his previous role as assistant director and gave him until yesterday to reply.

Lawyer Richard Horseman, of Wakefield Quin, sent Mr Diel a letter the following day and said it was understood that any termination by the Governor had to happen during Dr Evans’s probation.

But it added that the probation period ended on a weekend and that Dr Evans got a letter from the PSC on “the first working day following the end of his probation period”.

Mr Horseman said that if Dr Evans took legal action “the court will not reinstate him to the position of Education Commissioner”.

He added that — if Dr Evans failed to accept the position of assistant director — his claim for legal damages would be “reduced accordingly”.

Mr Diel’s reply to Mr Horseman said he viewed the affair with “increasing incredulity” and claimed Mr Horseman’s letter and the PSC’s “manage to contradict each other in content and import”.

He added: “Our client has now been terminated by the Governor with ‘immediate effect’ — which for avoidance of doubt must be as of 8am on October 13.

“By simple extrapolation, neither your client nor the Governor thus terminated our client’s employment at any point prior to that.

“It is, of course, trite that you cannot terminate someone’s employment twice.

“Thus, your client’s letter of October 2, 2017 was, as we have said all along, communicating nothing as it was not sent on behalf of the Governor nor was it even purporting to terminate our client’s employment.

“Your client’s letter of October 5, 2017 was, as your letter of the 13th makes clear, actually correct. Our client’s employment was not terminated.”

Mr Diel added: “Consequently, our client cannot accept any offer of a position below that of Commissioner due to the fact that, as a matter of law, he has not been terminated from that position.

“As stated in previous correspondence, we anticipate the damages will be significant.”