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Industrial Court declares fraud allegation against Ngozi Iteogu as Unfounded, awards 2 years salary as damages

364 Monday 15th February 2021

The Presiding Judge, Abuja Judicial division of the National Industrial Court, His Lordship, Hon. Justice Ayodele Obaseki-Osaghae has declared the employment termination of One Ngozi Iteogu as wrongful, ordered International Energy Plc to pay her the sum of Three Hundred and Eight Thousand, Eight Hundred and Seventy-Nine Naira as salary for the period of her suspension, a full month, and salary in lieu of notice with the sum of Three Hundred thousand Naira costs of action within 14 days.


The Court held that the firm ought to have known that an unfounded and unjustified allegation of a financial crime in a letter of termination would damage the career of Ngozi, awarded the sum of N3,346,486.00 (Three Million, Three Hundred and Forty-Six Thousand, Four Hundred and Eighty-Six Naira) being the equivalent of 24 (Twenty Four) Months’ salary against the firm as general damages for the stigma.


From facts, the claimant’s – Ngozi Iteogu had submitted that after waiting for a period of 3 (three) months suspension over allegation of misconduct that the report of the investigation by the IPO revealed her innocence and advised her to return to work, that she wrote a letter appealing for her reinstatement that what she got was a letter of termination of her employment. 


She averred that the termination of her employment has put her character in issue that her chances of securing another job have been marred by the company's allegation of misconduct and consequent dismissal.


In defence, the firm stated that Ngozi's appeared before the disciplinary committee and was not harassed and bullied by members of the committee, that her answers to the questions were not satisfactory, alleged that she connived in the misconduct that was discovered that her employment was validly terminated and not entitled to any of the reliefs claimed.


Learned counsel submitted that there is no evidence that the defendant maliciously accused the claimant of fraud, neither did she tender any evidence from the Police establishing her innocence, urged the court to dismiss the claims for lacking merit.


In opposition, learned counsel, Abimbola Eniola Esq averred that the termination of the Ngozi’s employment violated the company staff handbook, that claimant was not paid her half salary while on suspension as provided by the handbook and was not paid salary in lieu of notice, nor her accrued salary; urged the court to grant the reliefs sought. 


Delivering the Judgment after careful evaluation of the submissions of both parties, the presiding Judge, Justice Obaseki-Osaghae held that both parties are bound by the terms and conditions of the employment contract, that it is the statutory duty of the Police to investigate the report made to it. 


“The evidence of DW that the Police did not file any criminal charge against the claimant is further proof that the claimant was not involved in the alleged fraud. These facts make the disciplinary committee’s conclusions simply absurd. I hold that the allegation of fraud against the claimant is unfounded, and the label put on her by the committee as an unrepentant accomplice is unjustified. 


“It is common sense that prospective employers will be hesitant to employ the claimant as a result of the stigma of a malicious allegation of fraud stated in the letter of termination. 


“The defendant is ordered to immediately correct its records to reflect the fact that the claimant was not involved in the alleged fraud, and when requested for a reference to give one based on the corrected records.”

 

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