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[Alleged Sexual Misconduct] Industrial Court declares employment termination of Isaac Abifarin as wrongful, awards damages

498 Thursday 12th November 2020

His Lordship, Hon. Justice Ikechi Nweneka of the Lagos Judicial Division of the National Industrial Court has declared the appointment termination of Mr. Isaac Abifarin by the Providence School on 28th June 2019 on the allegation of sexual misconduct as wrongful and violation of the Abifarin’s fundamental right to fair hearing as guaranteed by the Constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria, 1999 [as amended] and Article 7 of the African Charter on Human and Peoples’ Rights.

The Court held that Abifarin’s disengagement carries with it a stigma on his character for which he is entitled to substantial damage far beyond the salary paid in lieu of notice; ordered the school to pay him the sum of 1 million Naira as damages and the sum of One Hundred and Fifty Thousand cost of action within 30 days.

From facts, the Claimant- Isaac Abifarin had submitted that the school violated his right to fair hearing before terminating his employment that he did not receive any specific complaint from the panel accusing him of sexual misconduct; and was not invited by the panel to clear his name and he was not given the opportunity to challenge the victim of the alleged sexual misconduct; that he has never been accused of sexual misconduct by anybody.

He opined further that the procedure adopted by the panel was designed to victimize him and cast aspersion on his integrity.

In defence, the school also submitted that claimant was given fair hearing, denied his involvement of sexual misconduct but admitted using sexually explicit words that the committee prepared its report and a Board approved the termination of his appointment, argued that termination or suspension of an employee does not amount to a breach of his fundamental rights urged the Court to refuse all the reliefs sought.

Continuing, learned counsel Funmi Adeogun Esq. with Adebayo Hamid Esq. and Toyin Usman Esq. stated that the claims for mandatory order for alleged contributory pension and tax deduction cannot hold water as it is unsupported with any documentary evidence urged the Court to refuse all the reliefs sought in this suit.

In opposition, Claimant Counsel O. W. Alabi Esq. with O. A. Akinwunmi Esq. contended suspicion no matter how strong cannot be substituted for the commission of a crime and maintained that nobody needs documentary evidence to prove the effect of the wild allegation of sexual misconduct urged the Court to grant the reliefs claimed.

After careful evaluation of submissions of both parties, Delivering the Judgment, the presiding Judge, Hon. Justice Ikechi Nweneka held the panel was established, amongst other things, to investigate the involvement of the Claimant with the students, that the important question begging for answer is, how could such investigation be carried out in a “thorough manner” without the panel taking representations from the Claimant who is in the eye of the storm? 

“Worse still, fresh allegations were made against the Claimant during the panel’s sittings, and yet the panel did not consider it necessary to invite the Claimant for his response. 

“In these circumstances, I come to the irresistible conclusion that the panel’s sitting was a charade and the entire investigation process was skewed against the Claimant and denied him of his right to fair hearing; the fact that the Claimant attended the meetings of 17th June 2019 notwithstanding. 

“Taking into account the number of years the Claimant worked with the Defendant without blemish, the industry he operates in and the likelihood that the allegation will dog his career for a long time to come, I award him general damages in the sum of N1, 000,000 [one million naira].

For Full Judgment, Visit the Judgment’s Portal