Saturday, July 30, 2011

Illegal dismissal; moral damages; separation pay awarded in lieu of reinstatement - G.R. No. 153982

G.R. No. 153982


"A final word. Moral damages are awarded in termination cases where the employee’s dismissal was attended by bad faith, malice or fraud, or where it constitutes an act oppressive to labor, or where it was done in a manner contrary to morals, good customs or public policy [55] In Gucaban’s case, the said bases indeed obtain when she was fraudulently induced to resign and accede to a quitclaim upon the false representation of an impending and genuine reorganization as well as on the pretext that such option would be the most beneficial. This, coupled with the subsequent oppression that immediately preceded her involuntary resignation, deserves an award of moral damages consistent with the Court of Appeals’ ruling. Accordingly, Gucaban is likewise entitled to exemplary damages as decreed by the Court of Appeals.

Lastly, reinstatement and payment of backwages, as the normal consequences of illegal dismissal, presuppose that the previous position from which the employee has been removed is still in existence or there is an unfilled position of a nature, more or less, similar to the one previously occupied by said employee.[56] Yet, it has been more than a decade since the incident which led to Gucaban’s involuntary resignation took place and, hence, with the changes in SMPI’s corporate structure through the years, the former position occupied by Gucaban, or an equivalent thereof, may no longer be existing or is currently occupied. Furthermore, there is the possibility that Gucaban’s rejoining SMPI’s workforce would only exacerbate the tension and strained relations which in the first place had given rise to this incident. This, considering that as project development manager she was holding a key position in the company founded on trust and confidence and, hence, there is also the possibility of compromising her efficiency and productivity on the job.[57] For these two reasons, the ruling of the Court of Appeals is modified in this respect. In lieu of reinstatement, an award of separation pay is in order, equivalent to one (1) month salary for every year of service.

WHEREFORE, the Petition is DENIED. The April 11, 2002 Decision of the Court of Appeals in CA-G.R. SP No. 60135, as well as its June 14, 2002 Resolution, are hereby AFFIRMED with the MODIFICATION that petitioner San Miguel Properties Philippines, Inc. is DIRECTED to pay respondent Gwendellyn Rose S. Gucaban separation pay in lieu of reinstatement and backwages. The case is REMANDED to the Labor Arbiter for execution and for the proper determination of respondent’s separation pay, less any amount which she may have received as financial assistance.