The Chairman of the Equal Opportunity Tribunal, Madam Justice Donna Prowell-Raphael has observed “rants” with “racial overtones” on social media. She warned that this “offensive behaviour” is grounds for persons to lodge a complaint to the Equal Opportunity Tribunal—a “free” remedy for dealing with grievances of victimisation and discrimination.
Prowell-Raphael’s comments were made at Sunday’s virtual national symposium (August 30) hosted by The University of The West Indies’ Faculty of Law, and the Catholic Commission for Social Justice (CCSJ) on ‘Understanding and Reconciling Race Relations in Trinidad and Tobago’.
The crux of her presentation was on the work of the Tribunal and the way it can address complaints of race discrimination.
The Equal Opportunity Tribunal champions the rights of ’ citizens ensuring that all are treated with fairness, cultural sensitivity and respect regardless of race, religion, sex, education, ethnicity, origin, ability or marital status. This leg of the judiciary works to fairly and judiciously guard the rights of people of the nation.
The purpose of the Tribunal is similar to that of the Industrial Court. A person lodging a complaint must do so within three months of the event happening.
Prowell-Raphael explained “the Equal Opportunity Tribunal, having received it, can investigate it to make sure it’s a viable complaint, and to make sure that the complainant has the necessary documentation. The parties “may attempt to conciliate it,” she said in her prepared video presentation.
In the event the complaint is not resolved, it has to be determined legally.
Prowell-Raphael highlighted that the Tribunal has “jurisdiction” to determine complaints between complainants and private individuals, and complainants and private companies.
“And we can look at any number of matters that would have gone before the State in recent times where people are complaining for some reason or the other that the State has either discriminated against them or treated them unfavourably or their rights were not adequately protected.”
The Tribunal is not a “gender rights institution”. However, discrimination on the basis of sex is part of its purview.
Prowell-Raphael mentioned that while the Tribunal has seen an “imbalance” in cases of racial discrimination in the workplace, the Equal Opportunity Act does not solely apply to the workplace.
She outlined the Act also covers education, accommodation, goods and services. She spoke of complaints from students who believed that they may have been marked down or treated unfairly or harshly by a lecturer perhaps because of race.
“Tremendous powers” reside in the court. Prowell-Raphael added that the Tribunal has powers of entry, to summon persons before the court, “forcefully” if required, summon persons to produce documents and grant injunctions.
“Therefore, we can send people to prison for contempt if they disrespect the orders of the court,” she said.
To the layperson, Prowell-Raphael stressed: “There is a remedy, a way of dealing with grievances, at no charge, when it relates to complaints…. [No need to] sound so frustrated, [or] throw up their hands in the air…. The whole process of conciliation doesn’t require you to spend any money at all.