By NEIL HARTNELL
Tribune Business Editor
The rush to obtain credit from Master Technicians to purchase a TV ended up costing a senior Pictet Bank & Trust employee with 24 years’ service her job, the Court of Appeal yesterday dismissing her $153,410 wrongful dismissal claim.
In upholding the earlier verdict of Chief Justice Sir Michael Barnett, Appeal court president Anita Allen found that although Anya Dorsett’s actions were not “dishonest”, dismissal was “within the range of options open” to her employer.
Noting that Ms Dorsett held the “fairly senior” post of deputy vice-president at Pictet, having worked for the bank for 24 years, the Court of Appeal judgment said dismissal stemmed from her desire in December 2009 “to purchase a television set through a financing arrangement with Master Technicians”.
“In order to finalise the arrangement, she needed a letter confirming her employment,” the judgment added.
“Due to the fact that this was near Christmas time, that the bank was having a party on the day, and that her supervisor, Marilyn Cambridge, was hosting the party and was absent from work, [Ms Dorsett] took it upon herself to retrieve a form letter from the computer, place the Bank’s stamp on it, and dispatch the letter to Master Technicians.”
The Court of Appeal added that evidence presented during the Supreme Court case “showed that there were other persons at the office that day who could have signed the letter”, but Ms Dorsett did not ask for their help with it.
“Moreover, the appellant, although she saw Mrs Cambridge later that day, failed to mention to her what she had done,” the judgment added.
“Indeed, the appellant failed to mention it for some days thereafter, and it was only when Master Technicians called to confirm the authenticity of the letter, was [Pictet] made aware.
“As it turned out, the letter was not printed on [Pictet’s] letterhead, it was not signed, and noted the appellant’s salary to be lower than it actually was.”
Ms Dorsett’s explanation was “that she needed the letter urgently. She further explained that the issue of a job letter by the bank was routine and, indeed, such a letter had been issued on her behalf on other occasions.
“As a result of her conduct, the appellant was asked to resign. When she refused, she was summarily dismissed.”
Ms Dorsett’s attorney, Rawson McDonald, argued that Sir Michael’s decision was not supported by the case facts.
But Pictet’s attorney, Sean Moree, argued that the real issue was whether the bank could justify her dismissal, adding that the problem was not the letter but the fact it was “sent without” his client’s authority “with intent to deceive”.
Ultimately, the one area where the Court of Appeal disagreed with Sir Michael Barnett was in his finding that Ms Dorsett acted dishonestly.
“Clearly, on the evidence, the Appellant sent out the letter without authority,” President Allen found.
“However, there was nothing in the letter which was untrue, apart from the representation of her salary as being lower than it actually was, and that can hardly be something which would be of any benefit to her in obtaining credit.
“In the premises, there was, in my view, no representation in the letter from which one might infer that she intended to deceive anyone, and I would not characterise her conduct as dishonest.”
The Court of Appeal president, though, said the question of whether Ms Dorsett’s conduct had undermined “the trust and confidence” essential to her relationship with Pictet had to be set against the nature of the bank’s business and her senior position.
She noted that Pictet “requires its employees to be trust-worthy, and to conduct the business of the bank in a careful and prudent manner. One would not expect an employee of a bank to send out any letter without authority, much less an employee of her seniority.
“On the other hand, this was an isolated incident in 24 years of service, and the question was, is it reasonable to dismiss her for that one act?”
These issues, the Court of Appeal found, were to be left to the employer’s discretion, and dismissal was among the options “open to a reasonable employer in the circumstances”.
As a result, the Court of Appeal upheld the Supreme Court verdict that Ms Dorsett was not wrongfully dismissed.