The Court of Appeal has upheld the Lusaka High Court’s decision to award former Standard Chartered Bank Zambia head of legal, compliance and company secretary Celine Meena Nair 36 months’ gross salary as damages after establishing that she was constructively dismissed from employment.
A panel of three Court of Appeal judges dismissed the appeal by the bank, saying all the nine grounds of appeal lacked merit.
In this matter, Standard Chartered Bank Zambia had appealed against the judgement of then High Court Industrial Relations Divisions Judge, Martin Musaluke, which found that Nair had been constructively dismissed by the bank.
Nair had sued the bank in the High Court’s Industrial Relations Division following her resignation on July 28, 2015, which she claimed was necessitated by acts and words of abuse she suffered over a period of time at the hands of the bank’s managing director and chief executive officer Andrew Okai.
According to Nair’s evidence on record, she worked at the bank for three substantive managing directors and acting managing director, including director and chief executive officer Andrew Okai.
She told the Court that her work relations with the managing directors apart from Okai were excellent and professional such that she received cash bonuses and recognition for her hard work from them.
Nair had told the Court that she resigned on July 28, 2015, having joined the bank on July 17, 2006, on a pensionable and permanent basis.
She told the Court that she had resigned from the bank because Okai victimized and harassed her, and that before she tendered her resignation letter, she had brought to the attention of the bank, acts of abuse by the CEO through an email dated July 9, 2015, addressed to Kerin Lyn Sader her line manager and copied to Emmanuel Degroote.
And in his judgement delivered on October 12, last year, Judge Musaluke, now Constitutional Court Judge, awarded Nair 36 months’ gross salaries as damages, saying the law was settled that where an employer fails to investigate an employee’s complaint or grievance, malice on the part of the employer will be implied.
But dissatisfied with the High Court judgement, the bank appealed to the Court of Appeal and filed nine grounds.
However, in the judgement delivered on October 15 this year, Court of Appeal judges Justin Chashi, Judy Mulongoti and Florence Lengalenga upheld Justice Musaluke’s decision, saying he was on firm ground when he established that Nair was constructively dismissed from employment.
The Court said they could not fault the trial judge when he found that the acts and words of abuse were part of a series of breaches for which Nair was entitled to resign.
Justice Mulongoti said it was trite law that even one act of breach was sufficient for the employee to resign and succeed on a claim of constructive dismissal.
She held that the door-slamming incident by Okai instigated by the whole managing director of the bank was appalling and sufficient to entitle Nair to resign.
“He shamelessly participated in it and asked others to join. We are of the view that this act disrespected the respondent and inflicted pain on her and entitled her to not trust the appellant because of the managing director and to leave,” said Justice Mulongoti.
“We agree that the door slamming spearheaded by Mr Okai to inflict pain on the respondent was a breach of the implied term that the parties, especially the employer, will treat the employee with respect. All in all, we find no merit in all the grounds of appeal.”