16 October 2018

Liberia: Court Finds Intercon Security Liable for Over 600k in Unfair Labor Practices

Monrovia — The National Labor Court for Montserrado County has upheld a ruling by the Hearing Officer at the Ministry of Labor, slapping the Management of Intercon Security System with damages in the amount of US$620,41.02 for unfair labor practices and wrongful dismissal of thirty (38) employees, an incident that took place back in 2004.

The Hearing Officer at the Ministry of Labor on September 22, 2017 awarded the total of US$620,418.02 to the 38 employees but the Management of Intercom filed a petition for Judicial Review.

During the hearing of the petition, His Honor Judge Richard S. Klah, Sr. Assigned Judge at the National Labor Court upheld the ruling of the Hearing Officer and denied the petition for Judicial Review.

In his ruling dated August 31, 2018, Assigned Judge Klah stated "wherefore, and in view of the foregoing laws, facts and circumstances adduced during the Investigation of this matter, this Court affirms, confirms, and upholds the ruling of the Hearing Officer. The Petition for Judicial Review is denied and the ruling of the Hearing Officer is ordered to be enforced in keeping with law. And it is hereby ordered".

To the ruling of Judge Klah, one of counsels for the petitioner, Intercon Security System announced an appeal to the Honorable Supreme Court of the Republic of Liberia sitting in its October Term A.D. 2018 an appeal that was granted by the Judge in keeping with law.

In determination of the matter, Judge Klah raised and addressed two cardinal issues: whether the ruling of the Hearing Officer is supported by sufficient evidence and whether the refusal by the Management of Intercon Security System to reinstate the respondents after their acquittal of the criminal charges constitutes constructive dismissal.

To the two legal issues, the Judge answered in the affirmatives.

The case started in 2004 when 55 complainants assembled peacefully before the United States Embassy in protest over unfair working conditions. The employees complained that they were denied medical benefits, working eight (8) hour shifts without lunch break and other unfavorable conditions.

After presenting their statement to the United States Ambassador, a three-member committee was allowed to enter the Embassy compound to meet with the Ambassador while the others remained outside.

During that interval the Management of Intercon invited UNMIL soldiers who arrested 55 of the complainants and turned them over to the Ministry of Justice. The Complainants were charged with Disorderly Conduct and Felonious Restraint and were detained, indicted, prosecuted and later acquitted during the trial.

While the trial was on going during the criminal case at the criminal court 'A' Intercon Security Management allowed 17 out of the 55 employees to return to work when the case has not been adjudicated by the criminal court. The management, after several months, payoff some of the 17 employees and at present some of them still in the employ of Intercon.

Following their acquittal, the Management of Intercon Security reinstated 17 out of the 55 but the remaining 38 were re-indicted and charged with disorderly conduct, Terroristic threats amongst others. They were later prosecuted. The 38 were acquitted for the second time and given clearances by the court to return to work.

When the 38 return to work, they were denied entry by the Management of Intercon and told to bring police clearance and despite the intervention of their legal counsel calling for them to return to work or be paid severance pay, the Management of Intercom refused to do so which promoted the complaint to the Ministry of Labor.

After the production of both oral and documentary evidence by the two sides, and closing of arguments, before the Hearing Officer, the Hearing Officer ruled against the Management of Intercon Security System on the 22nd day of September 2017, awarding the total of USD 620, 41.02 to Respondents, consistent with the quality of evidence presented by Respondent.

The Petitioner, following the above ruling, did not file anything the ruling of the Hearing Officer with the Respondent Counsel obtained a Clerk Certificate from this Honorable Court, to the effect that it was more than thirty (30) days, as required by law for the petitioner to have filed a petition for Judicial review.

Twist in Clerk Certificate

The Clerk of the National Labor Court has also been drawn into the case especially with the issuing of two separate documents to the two parties.

On November 6, 2017 the Clerk, Mr. Kish Trokon Beadeh issued a Clerk certificate to the complainants indicating that the Management of Intercon has failed to perfect its petition for Judicial Review.

Again, on the same day, the Clerk revoked the Clerk Certificate issued to Respondent Counsel, on ground that there was indeed a Petition for Judicial Review filed on time by the petitioner.

In a letter of complaint dated November 9, 2017, the Henries Law Firm representing the complainants indicated that in keeping with law governing the National Labour Court the party that takes an appeal from the Ministry of Labour has up to thirty (30) days to file Petition for Judicial Review and that the final ruling by the Hearing Officer was done on October 2, 2017 and that the Petition for Judicial review should have been filed on or before the 1st day of November 2017.

"On Monday, November 6, 2017, the Clerk after verifying that nothing has been filed up to the 6th November 2017, no petition for Judicial Review has been filed by the Management of Intercon. It is worth noting that on the 3rd day of November 2017, when the application was filed, the Clerk requested our representative to make the official deposit at the bank for the issuance of the Clerk's Certificate. Copy of the Deposit Slip is hereto attached for yours ease of reference", the complaint stated.

The complaint further indicated, "On the same November 6, 2017, the date on which the clerk issued the Clerk's certificate, he issued a subsequent Clerks certificate revoking the said Clerk's certificate in the revocation certificate. He indicated that our certificate was being revoked because the petition for Judicial Review was filed on October 31, 2017.

In the complaint, the Counsel for the complaint is requesting administrative investigation of the Clerk based on that fact that during the period October 27 to 31, all the Judges were out in Buchanan attending a workshop.

"In view of the foregoing, we pray Your Honor most respectfully to set aside the revocation order issued by the clerk of this Court, re-instate our Clerk's certificate of November 6, 2017, after your administrative hearing and to also grant unto the Complainant/Respondent all further relief that Your Honour may deem just, legal and equitable". Counsel for Appellant has filed a bill of exceptions before the Honorable Supreme Court of Liberia sitting in its September Term A.D. 2018.

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