Court Slams Damages On Mikano Over Arbitrary Sack of Worker

The Lagos division of the National Industrial Court (NICN) has ordered Mikano International Limited, to pay a total sum of N12.8 million, to it’s Director of Shared Services, Mrs. Nkechi Catherine Ogbonnah, who was unlawfully disengaged from service.

Justice R. H. Gwandu, who presided over the court made order, in the suit numbered NICN/LA/178/2019, filed by Mrs. Ogbonnah against the company.

Justice Gwandu also dismissed counterclaim filed by Mikano against the applicant.

The claimant through her lawyers, Efe Ize-Iyamu and Adekunmi Adeoti, had approached the court and asked for the following reliefs: “a  declaration that the defendant’s termination of her employment is wrongful, unlawful and a breach of the terms of the Contract of Employment dated 12th day of September 2018.

“A declaration that due to the failure of the defendant to properly terminate the her employment, her employment continues until the definite and fixed period of two year (September 12, 2018 to September 11, 2020)

“An order that the defendant pays the sum of ₦1.8 million, being salary in lieu of notice of termination of the claimant’s employment.

“An order that the defendant pays her the sum of ₦39. 6 million, being the total sum of salary she is entitled to for the remaining 22 months of her fixed two-year employment at ₦1,8 million per month based on Clause 4 of the Contract of Employment.

“General damages in the sum of ₦50 million, for breach of the Contract of Employment and the financial, physical, psychological, and emotional trauma the Claimant experienced as a result of the Defendant’s sudden termination of her employment.

“The sum ₦1 million, being the cost of this action.”

Mikano through its lawyers, Oyinkansola Badejo-Okunsanya, Atilolaoluwa Taiwo-Nsirim and Adekola Thompson, urged the court to dismiss the suit, on the ground that the termination of claimant’s employment was by mutual consent of the claimant and company.

During the trial of the suit, the claimant told the court that she was employed by the Milano International Limited, vide a letter of employment dated September 12, 2018 as Director of Shared Services. Adding that the said letter stated that “The duration of your employment will be for two years with a probation period of six months and may be extended for a further period by mutual agreement.”,

She stated that by a letter dated December 15, 2018, the company terminated her employment barely two months after employment since she resumed at the Company on October 15, 2018.

 She also told the court that all through her employment there was no allegations against her as she maintained a clean record and was professional at all times. And that she was only paid N900,000 instead of N1. 8 million, in lieu of notice despite her not owing the company anything.

Mikano International Limited in it’s defence, through one Mr. Joshua Adigun, told the court that thecllaimant’s claims is that her employment was not for a fixed period of two years, since the contract of employment was terminable by either party upon giving the agreed notice or salary in lieu thereof, that the employment letter does not signify that the employment duration was for a fixed or definite period of two years. 

The company also denied liability for the other financial entitlements claimed by the claimant, that the termination of the claimant’s employment came after a verbal reprimand from the Managing Director for her failure to carry out assigned tasks. 

The company said no written queries were issued, but that the claimant failed in her assigned responsibilities and since she was still on probation and given the fast-paced nature of the work, there were no written queries issued.

On failure to give the claimant notice of termination of her employment or payment in lieu of notice, the company stated that it had no such obligation and relied on its Employee Handbook and that it paid the claimant a pro-rated salary for the month of December 2018 when her employment was terminated given that she worked only for half month.

Justice Gwandu in her judgment held that: “I have gone through the processes filed and the argument of Counsel as well as the testimony of witnesses of both parties, from the issues raised by Counsel one major issue can be distilled and that is ‘whether the claimant has proved her case such as to be entitled to the reliefs sought against the defendant.

“………….i hereby hold that the failure of the defendant to give the Claimant one months’ notice or pay her one month’s salary in lieu of termination is a breach of the contract of employment. To determine whether or not the claimant is entitled to the reliefs sought I will take each relief serially.

“On the claimants relief for a declaration that the defendant’s termination of the claimant’s employment is wrongful, unlawful and a breach of the terms of the Contract of Employment dated 12th day of September 2018, I have held that the defendant breached the contract of employment by not adhering to the terms stipulated therein, this relief hereby succeeds and is granted.

“On the claimants relief for an order that the defendant pays the sum of ₦1 .8 million, being salary in lieu of notice of termination of the claimant’s employment, I hereby grant same, the defendant is to pay the claimant the said sum accordingly.

On the claimants relief for an Order that the defendant pays the claimant the sum of ₦39. 6 million, being the total sum of salary the claimant is entitled to for the remaining 22 months of her fixed two-year employment at ₦1. 8 million per month based on Clause 4 of the Contract of Employment, I refuse the grant of this relief for the reason given above at relief 2.

“On general damages in the sum of ₦50 million, for breach of the Contract of Employment and the financial, physical, psychological, and emotional trauma the claimant experienced as a result of the defendant’s sudden termination of her employment, I award the sum of N10 million, as general damages, this is because I have ascertained that the claimant lost more than the payment of a month’s salary will assuage, that the loss of employment without reason and so suddenly after one resumes will naturally destabilize the trajectory of not only personal lifestyle but also ones career, hence the reason the ILO stipulates that an employee’s service can no longer be terminated as it was before, for no reason at all. Moreso the National Industrial court can award damages far beyond the payment of notice if it deems it so.

“On the other hand the quantum of general damages need not be pleaded and proved; for it is the loss which flows naturally from the defendant’s act and it is generally presumed by law. The manner, therefore, in which general damages is quantified is by relying on what would be the opinion and judgment of a reasonable person. 

“I hereby Order that the Defendant pays to the Claimant the sum of N10 million, as general damages.

“The defendant will also pay to the Claimant the sum ₦1 million, being the cost of this action.

“I also Order that the above ordered sums are to be paid within one Month of this Judgment after which they will attract an interest of 10 percent per annum until final liquidation of the Judgment.

“On the defendants Counter claim, no tangible evidence was led, it was not proven and is hereby dismissed.”