Dismissed Coco Reef boss sues hotel
The former general manager of the Coco Reef Resort and Spa in Tobago has begun his wrongful dismissal lawsuit against the company that owns the hotel and its owner.
Eric Feniet took the witness stand at a courtroom at the Waterfront Judicial Centre in Port-of-Spain as the trial of his multi-million dollar lawsuit against Bella Forma Resorts Limited and its Bermuda-based owner John Jefferis commenced before Justice Frank Seepersad, on Monday
Throughout his testimony, the Frenchman was repeatedly quizzed by the company’s lawyer Martin George over the unorthodox duties he claimed that he was asked to perform by Jefferis from when he was hired as the resort’s food and beverage manager in 1995 to when he was terminated as general manager and company director in May 2020.
Feniet maintained his salacious claims that he was tasked with recruiting “young, slender and single” women to serve as Jefferis’ personal assistants. He also claimed to have hired escorts on the 76-year-old hotel magnate’s behalf.
While Feniet claimed that the assistants were expected to have a sexual relationship with Jefferis, he maintained that he never propositioned them for sex on Jefferis’ behalf.
“I never said to the ladies you have to do so…Lots of them decided not to take the job,” Feniet said, as he claimed that one recruit was successful and he made arrangements for her to travel to Bermuda to meet Jefferis.
Feniet claimed that he did not consider that his actions possibly infringed local human trafficking and prostitution laws.
“I never forced anyone to do anything,” he said.
Feniet also stated that based on their long-standing relationship, he agreed to participate in “occult” rituals on Jefferis’ request including emptying an unknown substance on the perimeter of a parcel of land owned by a businessman, with whom Jefferis had a legal dispute.
“I did what the man (Jefferis) asked…It was out of love,” he added.
Although Feniet admitted that he did not perform the normal duties of a company director after being promoted by Jefferis, he admitted that he still received the $140,000 annual salary for 14 years.
He also maintained that Jefferis promised to give him US$1.5 million as part of his eventual retirement package in a written document.
“I guess Mr Jefferis was happy with my work. He would not have given me that if he did not like me and if I was not doing my job,” Feniet said.
Feniet also claimed that during the course of his employment, he assisted Jefferis by using his European bank accounts to transfer money to and from his (Jefferis) businesses in Cuba, which were affected by the United States economic embargo on that country.
However, Feniet claimed that he did not think that the transfers were illegal at the time he facilitated them.
Feniet was also interrogated over the travel awards he claimed he earned on the resort’s behalf during his over two-decade stint there.
He denied being aware that the resort paid international travel companies for the recognition.
“I did not make up the awards,” he said.
Through the lawsuit, Feniet, who received three months’ remuneration totalling US$45,919.23 in lieu of notice when he was terminated, is claiming that he should receive compensation for six years calculated at US$832,500 and $1.4 million based on his dedication to his job and his role in making the resort a success.
He is claiming the US$1.5 million payment and a parcel of land, which he claims Jefferis also promised him.
Feniet is also seeking compensation for defamation as he claims that the hotel made libellous comments against him in an email sent to repeat customers announcing his departure from the organisation.
In defence of the case, the company has denied any wrongdoing as it claims Feniet’s allegations as scandalous, frivolous, and vexatious.
It also claimed that Feniet was terminated as he did not perform his duties in a satisfactory manner, engaged in financial impropriety, and engaged in romantic and sexual relationships with subordinates.
Stating that the Covid-19 pandemic and its associated restrictions negatively impacted the resort, the company said: “It was in this context that the First Defendant was constrained to review its operations and to terminate the Claimant’s employment for redundancy with effect from May 28, 2020.”
While he was listed as a defendant in the case, Jefferis did not participate by giving evidence due to his current health condition and was represented by his company’s legal team.
Feniet is expected to complete his evidence when the case resumes this morning.
Feniet was represented by Terrence Bharath, Daniella Bharath, and Marina Narinesingh. The company and Jefferis were also represented by Sarah Lawrence.
By: Derek Achong