Industrial Court Orders Port Harcourt Electricity to Pay Ex-Staff 2-year Salaries as Damages for Wrongful Employment Termination

Hon. Justice Polycarp Hamman of the Port Harcourt Judicial Division of the National Industrial Court has declared the termination of Comrade Akpan Aniedi’s employment by Port Harcourt Electricity Distribution as wrongful for being done contrary to the company Conditions of Service and Sanction Grid.

Justice Polycarp held that the contention of the Electricity firm that Comrade Akpan’s employment was terminated in accordance with the terms of the employment because the firm has the right to terminate the appointment at any time is misconceived and baseless

The Court maintained that it will be unfair, unjust, and unconscionable for the Electricity Company to take advantage of the report of the trip embarked upon by Comr. Akpan, and turn around and punish the officer that produced the report on the allegation that he misrepresented facts to his superior. 

Justice Polycarp ordered the Port Harcourt Electricity Distribution to pay Comrade Akpan Aniedi his salary for two (2) years (less statutory deductions) as compensation for wrongful termination of employment and breach of his employment contract within 30 days.

From facts, the claimant- Comrade Akpan Aniedi had submitted that on 30th April, after the briefing with the union, he embarked on an official trip, and despite the approvals, on return, he was issued a query which he responded to; and he appeared before the Disciplinary Committee including some of the staff who were also invited and interrogated and he was exonerated but the Defendant was not comfortable with the report and immediately directed the committee members to further deliberate on the matter and to report as prescribed. 

The committee served him a notice for second sitting on the same subject matter on 13th May 2020, indicted and was issued a purported termination letter dated 15th May 2020, and all efforts to get the defendant to rescind the decision prove abortive.

In defence, the defendant- Port Harcourt Electricity Distribution maintained that Comrade Akpan’s employment was duly terminated for gross misconduct and in accordance with the defendant’s extant HCM Handbook and Sanction Grid. 

The firm averred that the trip undertaken by Comrade Akpan was not duly authorized but obtained through concealment, suppression, and misrepresentation of material facts, and the penalty for such is termination in line with the Sanction Grid and urged the court to dismiss the case in its entirety.

In opposition, the claimant’s counsel submitted that if Defendant was to act on the finding of the Disciplinary Committee of 13th of May, 2020, it ought to issue the Claimant a final written warning and not a termination letter, urged the court to grant the reliefs sought.

Delivering the judgment, the presiding Judge, Justice Polycarp Hamman held that having heard from Comr. Akpan and a report were made on 11th May 2020 exonerating him of the allegations, that Defendant’s MD instruction to the Disciplinary Committee to further consider the matter influenced the work of the Committee into ensuring that the claimant was disengaged from the firm. 

The Court reiterated that the alleged “serious gaps bordering on integrity” are not disclosed by the defendant to enable the court to decipher whether there was a need for the second sitting and report of the Disciplinary Committee. 

Justice Polycarp further held that while the query issued to Comr. Akpan, his answer, invitations, and appearances at both the 1st and 2nd sittings of the Disciplinary Committee were all based on ‘General Indiscipline’, and the company terminated the claimant’s employment under ‘General Misconduct which has or could have the potential to destroy the employment and or trust relationship.

“The pertinent question is whether the claimant having been tried under section GMC38 of exhibit DW1A which attracts a lesser punishment of final written warning for the first offence or termination for the second offence can be found culpable under a different section GME52 which attracts outright termination of appointment for the first offence. I do not think so.

“If the application by the claimant on the 28th of April, 2020 for the official trip could be approved not only by his immediate superior Mr. Canice Obi who the defendant is claiming was new in the office and the approval passed through all the defendant’s vetting processes including the Accounts/Finance Department and paid without being queried, then the defendant would need to have a second look at its internal vetting mechanisms.” Justice Polycarp ruled

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