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[Just In] Industrial Court awards N24m damages against firm for unlawful discrimination

2420 Monday 22nd March 2021

The Presiding Judge, Abuja Judicial Division of the National Industrial Court, Hon. Justice Ayodele Obaseki-Osaghae has declared the employment termination of Uzo Ejekwumadu as wrongful, discriminatory, unfair labour practice, and not in accordance with international best practices; ordered Blue Limited to pay Uzo Ejekwumadu the sum of 13,775 USD as back pay, N245,804.60 housing allowance, N320,000.00 for wrongful termination of employment and the sum of N24,662,381.82 (Twenty Four Million, Six Hundred and Sixty Two Thousand, Three Hundred and Eighty-One Naira) as damages for unlawful discrimination and unfair labour practice within 30 days.

The Court held that the firm violated the constitution, statutory provisions, and international conventions when it discriminated against Uzo in the workplace in terms of remuneration on the grounds of the circumstances of his birth.

From facts, the claimant- Uzo Ejekwumadu had submitted that the firm did not confirm his employment term after the 3 months probationary period stipulated in the letter of employment and alleged that his employment was terminated due to discrimination and not in line with his terms of employment.

He averred that he protested the pay cut and the manner he was treated but no response, that the treatment meted out to him by the firm and the termination of his employment was unconstitutional, contrary to law, an unfair labour practice, discriminatory, and was not in accordance with international best practices.

During cross-examination, Uzo told the court that he and the foreign staff were at the same cadre and was informed that they had the same package, but he discovered that staff did not have the same compensation package. 

In defence, the company denied discriminating against the Uzo or any staff and stated that its employees exercise their freedom and liberty in accepting their contracts of employment that it did not breach the terms and conditions of the employment and as such is not indebted to the claimant to any extent whatsoever, that the suit is malicious, and a gold-digging urged the court to dismiss same and grant the counter-claimed sought.

The firm counsel, Charles Edeki Esq submitted that having commenced the suit by the conventional procedure rather than the FREP Rules has robbed the court of the jurisdiction to entertain same, and argued that the claimant has failed to show how the firm discriminated against him and the burden of establishing the allegation of wrongful termination and how the terms of his employment contract were breached.

In reply, Learned counsel Rudolf U. Ezeani, with Sarah O. Sanni contended that their client, Uzo was the only employee asked to take a pay cut of 60% and that the company action of unequal pay and discrimination against the claimant is a violation of the provisions of African Charter on Human and Peoples Right, urged the court to grant the reliefs sought.

Delivering the Judgment, the presiding Judge, Justice Obaseki-Osaghae affirmed jurisdiction and held that the defendant’s conduct in singling out the claimant alone to accept a 60% pay cut was discriminatory, oppressive, and compels involuntary servitude.

The Court further held that the defendant failed to place before the court the criteria or parameters used in a bid to justify the pay disparity and has failed to discharge the shifted evidential burden that the act of paying a lesser sum as remuneration to a Nigerian compared to the foreigners is an act of exploitation.

Justice Obaseki-Osagahe held that the defendant discriminated against the claimant when he was treated differently from the foreign employees by paying him much less for performing the same job as the foreigners. 

“While the determination of salaries is the internal affairs of the employer, where there is an allegation by an employee of a violation of his/her right to equal pay for equal work, it behoves the court to interrogate the remuneration determination process or system of the employer to ascertain whether the right has been violated and the employee entitled to legal remedy to have the right recognized.” Justice Obaseki-Osaghae

Click on this link to read full judgment via the judgment’s Portall