Enugu – His Lordship, Hon. Justice I. G. Nweneka of the National Industrial Court of Nigeria, sitting in Enugu, on Friday 7th December 2018 in a judgment declared the dismissal of THERESA CHINYERE OZOH (claimant) by NGOZI EJIONUEME (5th defendant) from the service of ESUT BUSINESS SCHOOL(1st defendant) as wrongful but not illegal. The court also awarded sum of N558, 007.83 to the Claimant against the Defendants as special and general damages for wrongful dismissal.
The Claimant claimed against the Defendants jointly and severally among others: A declaration that the purported dismissal of the Claimant from the service of the 1st Defendant by the 4th Defendant via a letter dated November 15, 2012 is wrongful, illegal, null and void and of no effect whatsoever. An order of Court directing the 1st to 4th Defendants to pay the Claimant her expenses, salaries, allowances and other benefits she was entitled to prior to her dismissal on November 15, 2012.
Likewise, an order of perpetual injunction restraining the 1st to 4th Defendants either by themselves, their officers, agents, privies or servants or through any person whatsoever from giving effect to the letter of dismissal dated November 15, 2012 or further treating the Claimant as a dismissed staff of the 1st Defendant or disturbing her in any way whatsoever from carrying out her duties as a staff of the 1st Defendant.
The Claimant’s case is that she was employed as Programme Secretary at the Institute for Entrepreneurial. On 1st November 2007, she was appointed the Programme Network Officer with responsibility for contacting lecturers and resource persons and supervising the Bookshop amongst others.
By the Claimant’s account, her problem with the Defendants, particularly the 5th Defendant, began in February 2009 when an Auditor was sent to audit the Bookshop and requested for receipt booklets, sales records, and project binding records which she handed over to him. The 5th Defendant was displeased and this strained her relationship with the Claimant resulting in the issuance of queries dated 7th May 2009, 16th July 2009, 26th January 2010 and suspension on 1st February 2010 and 23rd July 2012 and eventual dismissal.
It is also the Defendants’ case that the 5th Defendant as Director of Studies had powers to discipline erring staff of the 1st Defendant including power to serve queries and also denied abusing or maltreating the Claimant or threatening her with dismissal. The Claimant was suspended for three months and told to apologize and retract her claim on the sale of forms but she again refused resulting in her dismissal.
Learned Counsel submitted that the Claimant did not discharge the onus on her to show that her dismissal was wrongful, illegal, null and void and of no effect whatsoever. That the Claimant did not establish that her claim for unpaid salaries, allowances, bonuses, money collected from students for binding projects and monthly tea items formed part of her contract of service.
In opposition, Claimant submitted that the law is that a letter of dismissal must state the reason otherwise it will amount to wrongful dismissal and may be actionable in defamation urged the Court to declare the Claimant’s suspension and non-payment of March 2010 full salary unlawful.
Learned Counsel for the Defendants, Mr.Eneje, argued that the Claimant failed to prove, on the basis of her letter of employment, that the reason for the Claimant’s dismissal is that her service was no longer required not that she was found guilty of any misconduct or incompetence in the performance of her duties, urged the Court to dismiss the claim as vexatious, frivolous and lacking in merit.
After careful analysis of all the processes filed, and the submissions of the learned Counsel from both sides. The Court presided by Hon. Justice I. G. Nweneka expressed thus;
“There is no doubt in my mind that the Committee constituted by the 5th Defendant was not an impartial panel and could not give the Claimant fair hearing. It is a Committee set up to fulfill all righteousness. In the circumstance, I find and hold that the Claimant’s dismissal is in breach of her terms of employment and consequently wrongful but not illegal, null and void.
“I, therefore, find and hold that the Claimant’s dismissal is contrary to exhibit 3 and consequently wrongful; but the dismissal is not illegal, null and void and of no effect whatsoever.
“There is nothing in the Claimant’s contract of service authorizing the 5th Defendant to suspend the Claimant on half salary or without pay. The suspension of the Claimant on half salary or without pay is without justification and I so hold.
The court declared the refusal of the Defendants to pay the Claimant’s salary March 2010 - May 2010 [full salary]; July 2012 - October 2012 [half salary] and November 2012 [full salary] on the basis of the memos dated 1-02-02 [instead of 1/02/2010], 13th February 2012, 09/12/2011 and 23rd July 2012 is unlawful.
The sum of N558, 007.83 was awarded to the Claimant against the Defendants as special and general damages for wrongful dismissal, and taking into consideration the age of the case and the processes filed by the Claimant, cost of N200, 000 [two hundred thousand naira] was awarded in favour of the Claimant against the 1st and 2nd Defendants.
“This judgment shall be implemented within thirty days from the date hereof, failing which the monetary award shall bear interest at the rate of 10% per annum from the 7th January 2019 until the judgment is fully satisfied.” His Lordship declared.