General Secretary of the National Union of Public Workers’ (NUPW) Roslyn Smith and President Akanni McDowall are headed to court for a showdown.
News of this broke this morning when Smith released a press statement signalling her intention to sue McDowall for defamation.
The lawsuit stems from a memo dated August 28, 2018, in which McDowall made certain statements to the NUPW’s National Council, with reference to Smith’s use of the union’s credit card.
Smith has accused McDowall of making several “extremely serious, sensational and irrefutably false statements against her”, which had the potential to cause her to lose her job.
According to the release, correspondence was sent to McDowall’s lawyers on January 11, 2019, informing him of the planned action.
However, McDowall, who is represented by the legal firm Clarke Gittens Farmer, has claimed that he is protected from any defamation lawsuit.
A letter sent to Smith’s attorney Duana Peterson, a copy of which was obtained by Barbados TODAY, stated that McDowall was protected under the Trade Unions Act, as president and chairman of the National Council.
“In fulfillment of this duty, our client issued the memo to the National Council under the letterhead of the NUPW and in his capacity as chairman and president. Therefore, the memo was issued by our client on behalf of NUPW,” the letter read.
“Consequently, we have advised our client that he is afforded protection from your client’s claim of defamation pursuant to Section 7(1) of the Trade Unions Act CAP 361.”
McDowall’s legal representative maintained their client’s innocence.
“Our client denies your client’s allegations that the statements complained of are defamatory in that they are true and reflect a decision taken at a meeting held on August 2, 2018 and discussions occurring on August 23, 2016.
“Accordingly, our client wholly rejects the allegations made against him by your client and will defend any subsequent proceedings in respect of this matter,” it read.
The NUPW president also questioned the timing of the lawsuit.
In a recent interview with Barbados TODAY, McDowall revealed that he would be seeking a third term as president in the April 3 elections.
“I find it quite interesting that this letter will come weeks before the union elections, relating to a matter since 2018. I believe the union has more significant issues to address and I will like to focus on those issues. Right now I am focusing on ensuring that the rights of workers are protected,” McDowall said.
Smith alleged that in the circulated memo, McDowall said the National Council had taken a decision at a special meeting held August 2, 2018, to have all of the documents in respect of her credit card’s use brought to the National Council.
At a special meeting held on August 23, 2018, she alleged that McDowall claimed she made several purchases using the union’s credit card, which were not approved by the National Council and that on the same date the Council purportedly instructed her to give an account of her expenditure of the sum of $13 262.57.
Furthermore, Smith contended that the NUPW president or his agent, had leaked the memo to the Nation Publishing Company and Barbados TODAY, causing the said defamatory statements to be published in subsequent publications.
As a result, the NUPW general secretary is also suing both media houses for defamation.
Smith’s legal representative charged that “by their ordinary and natural meaning, the said words uttered by McDowall implied or suggested that her client acted in a manner that was dishonest, fraudulent and without sanction in relation to the use of the NUPW’s credit card and that she was further summoned to a meeting of the National Council to give account of these alleged unauthorized charges.”
The release further charged that the statements made by McDowall “amount to a very serious defamation of Smith and have caused her serious distress and public embarrassment…the statements are false, scandalous and unjustified and amount to a very serious defamation of my client, conveying imputations of impropriety, bad character and unfairness,” the attorney-at-law alleged.