By NEIL HARTNELL
Tribune Business Editor
Members of a Bahamas Power & Light (BPL) employee group known as the "Lords of Doom" were able to smoke marijuana and drink alcohol while on the job at Clifton Pier, it has been revealed.
The disclosures are contained in a November 3, 2020, Supreme Court ruling by Justice Ian Winder who dismissed a legal challenge brought by Terrance Penn, former foreman for BPL's safety and environment division, to his termination by the state-owned electricity monopoly.
Mr Penn, who managed the recovery and containment of oil spills at BPL's main New Providence power plant, was accused by the utility of permitting workers under his control to "pay him for favours" and "allowing staff to do as they pleased" in return.
Justice Winder's verdict notes that he was also questioned about the existence of the "Lords of Doom", a group Mr Penn said he heard of from other BPL workers but was unaware that any of his staff were members.
However, two BPL workers who worked under Mr Penn gave evidence to the internal investigation into the foreman that staff in the safety and environment division had formed such a group which would "hang out by the sea while drinking alcohol and smoking marijuana during working hours".
Another employee, in his witness statement, admitted to drinking alcohol at work and, although he did not witness co-workers smoking marijuana, he could detect the scent of it on their clothes.
The "Lords of Doom's" existence, and the events leading to Mr Penn's dismissal, largely took place when PowerSecure was in residence as BPL's managing/operating partner. The ex-foreman, who was suspended on August 8, 2016, was dismissed three weeks later and nine years after he joined BPL.
Mr Penn subsequently sued for wrongful/unfair dismissal, and a breach of BPL's industrial agreement with his union, The Bahamas Electrical Workers Union (BEWU). BPL, though, countered that its investigation had found him guilty of "gross misconduct in the form of fraudulent activity and/or dishonesty and/or gross negligence and breach of confidence and trust".
Mr Penn, who managed three BPL vessels in charge of oil spill clean-up and recovery at Clifton Pier, said he was first alerted to problems when Bharti Jones, the utility's safety and environment manager, and Obadiah Butler, his supervisor and BPL's security supervisor, arrived at the site and told him to report to human resources at head office.
There he was questioned about worker allegations that "he was putting time in for staff when they were not at work. It was also alleged that he had staff to his home during work hours.
"Penn said that he denied the allegations of putting in time for staff, but admitted that he did take Michael Bullard to his home to work and clean his car but only on his personal time."
Union representation was brought into the meeting in the form of Astrid Bodie, the BEWU's general secretary, and Mr Penn was handed a letter suspending him for five days. Then, just a week later, he was asked to come back to BPL's head office for further questioning.
"During this meeting he was asked if Justice Decius had ever performed work at his home," Justice Winder wrote of Mr Penn. "He denied that this had ever happened and stated that Decius had referred a friend to him, who was not an employee of BPL, and who had in fact performed the work at his home and not Decius.
"Penn says questions were also asked about Captain Stubbs taking one of the BPL boats on a trip to Andros. He denied any knowledge of the Andros trip and added that he would not authorise such a trip if it was unrelated to the duties. During this meeting there were also allegations that there was improper use of fuels for the boats used by BPL.
"Penn says that allegations that the staff were paying him for favours was brought up. He says that he demanded that his accusers be brought before him with their evidence, but this did not happen," the judgment added.
"Penn says that at this meeting he advised BPL that he had a problem with Ricardo Riley, as he was absent from work on a frequent basis and he created a hostile work environment. He said that he also advised BPL that he had problems with Edwin McClain, and that McClain had been suspended.. for breaches in the past."
It was then that LOD or "Lords of Doom" came up. "Penn was questioned about a group in BPL called LOD. Penn said that he had heard the phrase used in passing by staff but had never made any inquiry into its use and was not aware that it related to a group of his staff," Justice Winder said.
"He denied allowing members of LOD to smoke marijuana and/ or to drink alcohol while on duty at BPL's Clifton Facility. Penn denied allowing staff to do as they pleased as long as he was paid by them. Penn also denied logging in hours for staff when they did not work."
Mr Penn also sought to discredit Riley, McClain and Decius, all of whom gave evidence against him to BPL, as poor workers who lacked respect and discipline, and who created problems at work. Riley, though, in a written statement, said that if he missed a day of work his salary would not be cut as "you just had to give Penn something".
Sums allegedly ranged from $50 to $200, and Riley alleged he was also taken to clean Penn's private vehicles at his residence during work hours. This was corroborated by McClain, who added: "A group of temporary workers in the safety and environment department formed a group calling themselves the Lords of Doom (LOD).
"These individuals would hang out by the sea while drinking alcohol and smoking marijuana during working hours. McClain stated that he could not remember the dates but he reported two incidents to Penn's immediate supervisor. Penn confronted him and told him to report any issues directly to him, and did not allow him to work any weekend overtime after that."
Decius alleged that he was also taken to wash windows and repair cabinets at Penn's residence. "He also stated that some of his co-workers formed a group called LOD who smoked marijuana and consumed alcohol at work," Justice Winder's ruling said.
Other employees also alleged that they were taken to Mr Penn's house during work hours to work at his home, and paid money to the foreman for days when they were absent to avoid a cut in salary.
Mr Penn's attorney, Obie Ferguson, argued that it was unfair the allegations were not shown to his client during the interview to help him defend himself. BPL countered that the documents were presented to the union, and Mr Penn had never asked for them.
The foreman, though, argued that the utility had failed to follow the process set out in the industrial agreement and show there as lawful cause for his dismissal. He also claimed that he had not been given a chance to respond to the claims.
BPL, though, argued that it had carried out "a reasonable investigation" leading to its "honest and reasonable belief" that Mr Penn was guilty of the alleged conduct. And Justice Winder preferred its evidence.
"I find on the balance of probabilities that BPL held an honest and reasonable belief that Penn committed the misconduct in question at the time he was dismissed. I also find that the company conducted a full and fair investigation into the allegations that were made against him pursuant to the statutory requirement under the Employment Act," he added.
"I find that pursuant to his contractual rights under the industrial agreement and under the Employment Act, Penn was afforded a fair and reasonable opportunity to be heard and respond to the allegations made against him.
"This fact is borne out in his own evidence where he says that there were allegations put to him at the meetings he had with management that he was inter alia falsifying time sheets and having employees go to his home during working hours to perform personal tasks on his behalf."