Court awards ₦7.5m against firm over workplace vicitimisation, illegal termination of employment
Justice Nelson Ogbuanya of the National Industrial Court of Nigeria (NICN), Port Harcourt, has awarded ₦7.5 million general damages against Notore Chemical Industries Ltd., for exposing its former staff, Mrs. Sharon Philip, to workplace victimisation and wrongful termination of her employment.
The money is made up of ₦5million damages, ₦500,000 litigation cost, ₦1.8m terminal benefit and ₦220,865.75k unremitted pension entitlement, and are payable within two months from the date of judgment.
The judge declared that the termination of the claimant’s employment was wrongful, reckless and constitutes inhuman treatment and happened in the circumstance that exposed her to workplace victimisation by a superior staff whom she testified against following a whistle-blowing and anti-corruption hearing that led to the suspension of the superior staff.
“It is further declared that querying the claimant and subjecting her to disciplinary hearing on false allegation of fraud, which turned out that the claimant was innocent, yet her employment was terminated for ‘services no longer required’, without paying her terminal benefits and salary in lieu of notice, amounts to unfair labour practice.
“Reliefs (3) and (4) succeed to the extent that it is hereby declared that the claimant is entitled to payment of terminal benefits and salary in lieu of notice, as set out in ex.D3, in the credit balance sum of ₦1,804,472.72. Defendant shall pay same to the claimant. Also, having shown evidence, in ex.D1, that the claimant’s terminal pension has been remitted in the sum of ₦220,865.75, the claimant is entitled to access the said pension in line with the extant Pension Reform Act. The defendant is, hereby, directed to facilitate the claimant’s accessing of her said pension by supplying her with necessary documents of her employment record, to facilitate the pension payment by the said IBTC Pension Managers Ltd.,” the judge held on July 29, 2022.
The judge, however, dismissed the claimant’s demand for terminal benefits, which extends beyond the termination of the employment in March 2015, and claim of defamation, having not satisfied the pleading requirements bordering on such offence.
His words: “The sum of ₦5,000,000 is hereby awarded against the defendant in favour of the claimant as general damages for acts constituting unfair labour practice, occasioned by the claimant being exposed to workplace victimisation, and failure of the defendant company to protect the claimant against retaliation by her superior officer, who was suspended following the claimant’s testimony during the anti-corruption and ethical hearing, in line with the defendant’s introduced whistle-blowing policy.
“Relief (7) succeeds, to the extent that cost in the sum of ₦500, 000 is hereby awarded in favour of the claimant against the defendant, pursuant to Order 55, Rule 1, 4, 5 of the NICN (CP) Rules 2017. The sums of money awarded and due in this judgment shall be payable to the claimant by the defendant within two months of this judgment, failing which it attracts 10 per cent interest rate yearly until fully liquidated. Judgment is entered accordingly.”
The claimant who worked as a Supervisor in the Admin & General Services Department, Onne Branch of the defendant company, commenced the suit marked NICN/YEN/56/2015 against the defendant on July 23, 2015, challenging the termination of her employment on March 5, 2015, as being part of witch-hunt, intimidation and victimisation following her testimony against some staff, including her immediate boss, who were investigated and suspended when a whistle-blower hinted of some corrupt practices in the organisation.
Apart from asking for ₦400 million exemplary and aggravated damages for the tortous experience and other sundry claims, she also prayed for the sum of ₦50,076,895 or more “representing the claimant’s gratuity from March 6, 2015 till the end of 2028 as well as ₦172,536.30 representing the defendant’s unremitted pension contribution to Stanbic IBTC for nine months, from July 2014 – March, 2015.”
But the defendant denied the issue of victimisation of the claimant and the circumstances culminating in the termination of the employment, as well as the claimant’s claim for outstanding terminal benefits.
According to the defendant, its management had in July 2013, directed the restructuring and merger of positions/roles in various departments (including the Administration and General Services Department) for purposes of optimisation of various staff positions across the firm.
It said that following the said optimisation exercise, the claimant was one of the officers affected in the Administration and General Services Department.
“That even though the claimant had no role in Administration and General Services Department and lacked the competence to fit into new roles in other departments, the defendant, out of benevolence (and with the hope that the claimant would eventually fit into a new role) left the claimant floating and continued to pay her full financial entitlements up and until March 5, 2015 that her employment was eventually terminated,” it argued.
Defendant contended that the claimant was not dismissed by the defendant, rather, her employment with the defendant was terminated via a termination letter dated March 5, 2015 in line with her letter of employment dated January 26, 2009, when her services were no longer required by the defendant.