17 January 2019

Liberia: GT Bank Hooked in U.S.$100m Damages Lawsuit

GT Bank Liberia managing director, Ayodeji Bejide, allegedly injured employee Edward Freeman by throwing a calculator at him, causing a serious injury to his lips.

Judge Dunbar says there is no way the bank can argue that it is not vicariously liable.

Having contested against its inclusion into a US$100 million in damages brought by Edward Freeman, an employee of Guaranty Trust Bank (GT Bank), against the bank's managing director Ayodeji Bejide, a Nigerian national, the Civil Law Court 'B' at the Temple of Justice on Wednesday, January 16, said the bank must be liable for the injury inflicted on Freeman.

On Tuesday, August 28, 2018, because of fear of dismissal, Freeman shared a video on Facebook where he was bleeding from his lips in Bejide's office, after Bejide reportedly threw a calculator at him.

The video went viral, prompting officers of the Liberia National Police (LNP) to arrest Bejide. Bejide was subsequently charged him with aggravated assault and forwarded to the Monrovia City Court.

While the matter was pending before the court, Freeman, through his lawyer Arthur Johnson, filed an Action of Damages lawsuit, seeking US$100 million from both Bejide and the bank's management, of which the bank had prayed the court to remove its name from the lawsuit.

Bejide, who was released on a US$50,000 bail in order to seek medical attention in Nigeria, and was expected to return in two weeks, is yet to return.

Denying the bank's contention in court, Judge Scheaplor R. Dunbar said the bank was liable in damages for the injury Freeman sustained. "As such, the bank is an indispensable party as a defendant in this case," Dunbar said.

"There is no way the bank can argue that it is not vicariously liable for the injury inflicted on Freeman by its then managing director, Bejide," the Judge ruled.

Judge Dunbar, who is yet to hear the merit and demerit of the lawsuit, however, said it was the bank that employed defendant Bejide, and subsequently brought him to Liberia to serve as its managing director.

"The wrongful conduct of assault on Freeman was carried out by Bejide on the bank's premises during normal working hours, and in the ordinary and normal cause of duty," Dunbar said, defending his decision to deny the bank's argument.

Before Dunbar's decision, the bank had argued that Freeman's accusation that it was a party to the defendant was without any iota of truth because it was a mere allegation.

"This is a settled principle of law that every allegation must be supported by proof, and that mere allegation is not sufficient to hold a party liable," the bank argued.

The bank contended that the belief that it was a party was mere speculation, assumption and unfounded in law.

They also argued that if it had authorized the act of the defendant, it should have been investigated by the LNP officers and brought under the jurisdiction of the Monrovia City Court, "which is a clear indication that it did not authorize the alleged act of the defendant," according to the bank.

It may be recalled that when the incident was released on social media, there were reactions from several institutions and GT Bank.

A statement issued last evening by the Central Bank of Liberia (CBL) announced that Bejide has been suspended for time indefinite from the bank, with immediate effect and without pay, "pending a thorough investigation by the Board into the allegations."

In the meantime, CBL has appointed Amazu Nwachukwu, GT Bank's Chief Operating Officer, as Acting MD until the investigation is concluded.

The release quoted Nathaniel R. Patray, III, Chairman of the Board of Governors and Executive Governor of CBL, that the appointment of Mr. Nwachukwu will remain in force until the conclusion of the investigation; submission to the CBL within 48 hours of the Board's intended course of action to address "this grave matter."

The CBL "will henceforth review the GT Bank Board's recommendations. Thereafter, it will ensure the strictest implementation of the Bank's mitigating actions."

According to the Central Bank of Liberia, the GT Bank Board has conveyed its deep regrets for the alleged incident and has further informed the CBL that a senior executive from its parent company, GT Bank Nigeria, will arrive in Liberia on Wednesday, August 29, 2018, to assist in the investigation.

Labor Minister's position statement

The Ministry of Labor (MoL) has also condemned Bejide's action, terming it as "unacceptable."

"We are not only deeply concerned by Bejide's alleged action, but have also contacted the Ministry of Justice through the LNP to thoroughly investigate the matter," the ministry said.

MoL further said that in keeping with the relevant procedural laws of Liberia where criminal actions take precedence over civil actions, the ministry will be informed of the outcome of the ongoing criminal investigation into the matter.

Meanwhile, the ministry noted that the Decent Work Act of Liberia in Section 14.3 (d) reserves its most severe sanctions for persons who breach the fundamental rights of another employee or attacks, batters, threatens, or intimidates his or her co-workers.

The ministry said it will not hesitate to effect the utmost penalties on persons who flagrantly violate the Decent Work Act, and calls on all employers and employees to behave in keeping with the law.

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