WERNER MOELLER (PLAINTIFF)
MONIER CONSTRUCTION COMPANY (NIGERIA) LTD (DEFENDANTS)
Division: High Court (East)
Date of Judgment: 13th February, 1961
Case Number: Suit No. P/61/60
Before: Savage, J.
The plaintiff, a mechanical engineer, was employed by the defendant company under a written contract for a period of twenty months from February 1960. The contract contained a Clause 11(a)(B), which provided that the company should have the right summarily to terminate the employee's employment without notice or compensation, "if the employee commits any act which in the opinion of the company is likely to bring the latter into disrepute with any other persons, companies, authorities and before the public."
On plaintiff's arrival in Nigeria he was provided with free accommodation in one of the flats in a block of flats owned by the company and maintained by them for their employees. The other flats were occupied by other members of the company's staff and their families.
The plaintiff regularly and openly brought women of a certain class to this flat to spend the night with him; where on occasions they engaged in conduct which tended to embarrass and annoy the other occupants.
On 15th September, 1960, the defendant company wrote to the plaintiff summarily dismissing him from their employment in purported exercise of their power so to do under Clause 11(a)(B) of the contract; giving as their reason for such dismissal the fact that he regularly brought women to spend the night with him in the company's flat.
Plaintiff sued the defendant company for damages for Wrongful Dismissal.
(1) The conduct of the plaintiff was such that the company were entitled to form the opinion that it was likely to bring the company into disrepute with the public.
(2) It was not necessary for the defendant company to prove that the plaintiff's conduct had actually brought the company into disrepute. If the company were of opinion that such a result might flow from the plaintiff's conduct, they were entitled summarily to terminate plaintiff's employment, under the terms of Clause 11(a)(B) of the contract.
(3) The exercise by the company of their right to dismiss the plaintiff under the terms of the contract was solely within the company's discretion, and the court will not consider such exercise excessive even though an alternative and less drastic course would have been open to the company in the circumstances.
Judgment for the Defendants.
G. C. Nonyelu (Okechukwu with him) for Plaintiff.
Bentley for Defendants.
Savage, J.:-The plaintiff's claim against the defendants is for £1,737 damages for wrongful termination of the plaintiff's employment under the defendants.
The defendant company is a firm of engineering contractors. The plaintiff was employed by the company as a Mechanical Engineer on a salary of £125 per month. The contract between the plaintiff and the company was in the first instance for a period of 20 months commencing from February 1960 and subject to the service agreement exhibit 2. The plaintiff was given free accommodation in one of the flats of the defendants in a block of flats in Amadi Layout. Exhhibit 4 is a plan showing the block of flats. On 15th September, 1960, the defendants wrote exhibit 3 to the plaintiff terminating his employment under Clause 11(a)(B) of the Service Agreement exhibit 1 (exhibit 2 being the English translation of exhibit 1). The reason for the termination was that the plaintiff was bringing in women to spend the night with him in the defendants' flat occupied by the plaintiff.
According to the plaintiff he had an African girl friend that used to spend the night with him in his flat every 8 days and sometimes every 14 days between 10:00 pm and 5:00 am. It was because of this African girl friend that his appointment was terminated. The plaintiff further alleged that the Technical Manager of the company told him that he (the Manager) did not want his (plaintiff's) association with African girls but he (the Manager) had no objection to the plaintiff's bringing in white girls.
When the plaintiff was asked under cross-examinationif he knew where his girl friend was living in September 1960 he said he did not know. If it is true that the woman was his regular girl friend he would know her address. Another point which strikes me as odd in the plaintiff's evidence is the fact that he used to meet this girl friend of his in a hotel and from there he used to take her home for the night. This to my mind shows that the girl friend is nothing but a hotel girl who goes to hotels in search of men to take her home for the night. I do not believe that the girl who was found in the plaintiff's room on the morning in question was a regular girl friend of the plaintiff. I am satisfied from the evidence before me that she was one of the girls who go to hotels to look for men to sleep with.
Now the question is whether the defendants are justified in dismissing the plaintiff for bringing such girls to their flats where women and children occupy flats in the same block.
Clause 11(a)(B) of the service Agreement reads as follows:-
The MCC. shall have the right summarily to terminate the Employee's employment under the agreement without notice or payment in compensation, if the employee commits any act which in the opinion of the MCC. is likely to bring the latter into disrepute with any other persons, companies, authorities and before the public.
In my view bringing in women to spend the night in the company's flat is an act which is likely to bring the company into disrepute before the public. We have the evidence of the first witness for the defendants, whom I believe, that the stewards gathered outside and were looking into the plaintiff's flat laughing and joking. We also have the evidence which is admitted by the plaintiff that when asked to open his room he refused and jumped out of the room through the window leaving the girl inside the room. If the plaintiff's story is true that the girl was his regular girl friend he would not have jumped out through the window. He would have opened the door and explained that she was his regular girl friend.
It is true that bringing in women into his room for the night is his private affair but when he is occupying the company's flat such a thing is bound to affect the company adversely. The Public are bound to conclude that the company encourages immorality amongst African girls by allowing their employees to bring bad girls into their premises. One cannot call a girl who is picked up in a hotel by a man and taken into the man's room for the night a good girl, be she an African or European.
In my view therefore the company as justified in terminating the plaintiff's appointment under Clause 11(a)(B) of the service agreement. The plaintiff is bound by his agreement. It is not necessary that the act should actually bring the company into disrepute. It is enough if it is likely to bring the company into disrepute in the opinion of the company. It is the opinion of the company that matters according to Clause 11(a)(B) and not the opinion of anybody else. It is true that the company could have asked the plaintiff to move out of the flat instead of dismissing him, but that is in the discretion of the company which they are not bound to exercise. In any case asking the plaintiff to move out of the flat after the act cannot cure the damage already done by the act.
For the reasons given above the plaintiff's action cannot succeed.
I therefore dismiss the plaintiff's claim with 25 guineas costs to the defendants.