N20.2m fine slammed against First Bank over unlawful dismissal

A sum to the tune of N20 million has been slammed against the First Bank of Nigeria (FBN) Plc as general damages for wrongful dismissal and acts of unfair labour practice against its former employee, Lovell Osahon Ehigie.

The award of damages against the old generation bank was made by the National Industrial Court of Nigeria (NICN) sitting in Port Harcourt.

The court presided over by Justice Nelson Ogbuanya also awarded a cost of N200, 000 against the bank in favour of the claimant and ordered the defendant to compute and pay to the claimant his withheld terminal benefits and one-month ‘salary in lieu of notice’, in line with the terms of the employment contract.

Justice Nelson Ogbuanya further directed that the sum of money awarded should be payable to the claimant within two months of the judgment, failing which it attracts a 10 per cent interest rate yearly until fully liquidated in a September 30, 2021, judgment, which the Certified True Copy was obtained by The Guardian last week.

The judge decided while handing down his judgment in a suit designated NICN/PHC/137/2017, filed by the claimant against First Bank Plc.

It would be recalled that the claimant had prayed the judge to declare that the termination and dismissal of his appointment were unlawful and illegal.

Osahon Ehigie had equally urged the court to hold that he suffered damages as a result of the acts of the defendant.

“A declaration that the claimant is entitled to and be paid his salaries, entitlement and emolument from the period he was unlawfully and illegally dismissed from his employment until judgment is given, the sum of N60 million being damages for unlawful and illegal termination of appointment and in alternative the sum of N100 million as severance fee,” he prayed.

The claimant explained that he was employed by the defendant via a letter of employment dated June 16, 1998, and served for about 29 years as of July 2017, after rising through the ranks to the position of Assistant Manager, and had been deployed at various branches of the defendant bank, where he served creditably without blemish.

Osahon Ehigie stated that he was queried for issuing dude cheque, and he responded to explain that he didn’t do so, consequent upon which the defendant suspended him pending the investigation of the said allegation.

Osahon Ehigie argued that without being invited to any disciplinary proceedings and without compliance with the provisions of Article 11(c) the Employee Handbook, he received another letter of Termination of Appointment dated September 15, 2017, terminating his employment on the purported ground that his services were no longer required.

However, in its opposition, First Bank Plc argued that the claimant’s employment was terminated because his services were no longer required and not as a result of the issuance of dud cheque of which the defendant had drawn the claimant’s attention through the query and which he responded to, and that ended the issue.

The financial institution equally mentioned that no such issue was raised in the termination letter, which was served on the claimant, adding that the claimant was paid one month in lieu of salary, and that it did not set up disciplinary procedure against him as the reason for his termination was that his services were no longer required, and that such reason for termination does not warrant setting up of disciplinary committee to try the employee.

The bank contended that the termination of appointment was lawful as it was done in accordance with the terms of his employment with the defendant, with an addition that the claimant suffered no hardship or damages.

The bank, therefore, urged the court to dismiss the suit with costs.

In dishing out his judgment, Justice Ogbuanaya held that the legal status of the claimant’s exit from the employment was that of dismissal and not termination.

“The issue (1) is, therefore, resolved in favour of the claimant, to the effect that from the evidence on record, the defendant did not just terminate the claimant’s employment but dismissed him, in a manner akin to summary dismissal under Art.11.5 (k) of the Employee Handbook.

“The often adopted veiled reason of ‘services no longer required’ or muted reason does not apply to dismissal (whether express, implied or constructive) but limited to only proper termination done subject to and in due compliance with extant service contract in respect of service of the appropriate notice period or payment of salary in lieu of notice and requisite terminal benefits. I so hold.

“In light of the foregoing legal prescriptions on best practice of employment and labour relations, I have taken another look at the incidents and circumstances that culminated in the exit of the claimant from his employment with the defendant.

“From the records, the claimant had an unblemished service for 29 years, received anniversary commendation letter, but was later accused of issuing a dud cheque to an unnamed third party, an allegation contained in a query, of which he replied and denied any wrongdoing, as he had paid the third party through another payment mode, and it would amount to double payment to allow the earlier cheque to be paid out.

“He was nevertheless suspended to pave way for investigation, but a few days into his suspension (about 10 days) he was served with a termination letter that his services were no longer required. But then, he was neither paid one-month salary in lieu of notice nor his entitled terminal benefits for his years of service with the defendant.

“I have taken another deeper look at the said defendant’s contract of employment with the claimant and could not see nor was shown any provision where an employee’s employment can be terminated on the basis of ‘services no longer required’.

Learned defendant’s counsel did not also confirm any provision or basis of invoking such ground for terminating the employment in such circumstance that has been adjudged to amount to summary dismissal.

“No reason was also advanced to justify the said summary dismissal as evidence of the outcome of the suspension pending investigation was not made available even at the trial. I take the firm stand that absence of valid and justifiable reason makes a dismissal wrongful and is liable to be so declared and set aside. I so hold.”


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