G.R. No. 118978 May 23, 1997
PHILIPPINE TELEGRAPH AND TELEPHONE COMPANY, * Petitioner, v. NATIONAL LABOR RELATIONS COMMISSION and GRACE DE GUZMAN, Respondents.
Seeking relief through the extraordinary writ of certiorari, petitioner Philippine Telegraph and Telephone Company (hereafter, PT & T) invokes the alleged concealment of civil status and defalcation of company funds as grounds to terminate the services of an employee. That employee, herein private respondent Grace de Guzman, contrarily argues that what really motivated PT & T to terminate her services was her having contracted marriage during her employment, which is prohibited by petitioner in its company policies. She thus claims that she was discriminated against in gross violation of law, such a proscription by an employer being outlawed by Article 136 of the Labor Code.
Grace de Guzman was initially hired by petitioner as a reliever, specifically as a "Supernumerary Project Worker," for a fixed period from November 21, 1990 until April 20, 1991 vice one C.F. Tenorio who went on maternity leave. 1 Under the Reliever Agreement which she signed with petitioner company, her employment was to be immediately terminated upon expiration of the agreed period. Thereafter, from June 10, 1991 to July 1, 1991, and from July 19, 1991 to August 8, 1991, private respondent's services as reliever were again engaged by petitioner, this time in replacement of one Erlinda F. Dizon who went on leave during both periods. 2 After August 8, 1991, and pursuant to their Reliever Agreement, her services were terminated.
On September 2, 1991, private respondent was once more asked to join petitioner company as a probationary employee, the probationary period to cover 150 days. In the job application form that was furnished her to be filled up for the purpose, she indicated in the portion for civil status therein that she was single although she had contracted marriage a few months earlier, that is, on May 26, 1991. 3
It now appears that private respondent had made the same representation in the two successive reliever agreements which she signed on June 10, 1991 and July 8, 1991. When petitioner supposedly learned about the same later, its branch supervisor in Baguio City, Delia M. Oficial, sent to private respondent a memorandum dated January 15, 1992 requiring her to explain the discrepancy. In that memorandum, she was reminded about the company's policy of not accepting married women for employment. 4
In her reply letter dated January 17, 1992, private respondent stated that she was not aware of PT&T's policy regarding married women at the time, and that all along she had not deliberately hidden her true civil status. 5 Petitioner nonetheless remained unconvinced by her explanations. Private respondent was dismissed from the company effective January 29, 1992, 6 which she readily contested by initiating a complaint for illegal dismissal, coupled with a claim for non-payment of cost of living allowances (COLA), before the Regional Arbitration Branch of the National Labor Relations Commission in Baguio City.
At the preliminary conference conducted in connection therewith, private respondent volunteered the information, and this was incorporated in the stipulation of facts between the parties, that she had failed to remit the amount of P2,380.75 of her collections. She then executed a promissory note for that amount in favor of petitioner 7. All of these took place in a formal proceeding and with the agreement of the parties and/or their counsel.
On November 23, 1993, Labor Arbiter Irenarco R. Rimando handed down a decision declaring that private respondent, who had already gained the status of a regular employee, was illegally dismissed by petitioner. Her reinstatement, plus payment of the corresponding back wages and COLA, was correspondingly ordered, the labor arbiter being of the firmly expressed view that the ground relied upon by petitioner in dismissing private respondent was clearly insufficient, and that it was apparent that she had been discriminated against on account of her having contracted marriage in violation of company rules.
On appeal to the National Labor Relations Commission (NLRC), said public respondent upheld the labor arbiter and, in its decision dated April 29, 1994, it ruled that private respondent had indeed been the subject of an unjust and unlawful discrimination by her employer, PT & T. However, the decision of the labor arbiter was modified with the qualification that Grace de Guzman deserved to be suspended for three months in view of the dishonest nature of her acts which should not be condoned. In all other respects, the NLRC affirmed the decision of the labor arbiter, including the order for the reinstatement of private respondent in her employment with PT & T.
The subsequent motion for reconsideration filed by petitioner was rebuffed by respondent NLRC in its resolution of November 9, 1994, hence this special civil action assailing the aforestated decisions of the labor arbiter and respondent NLRC, as well as the denial resolution of the latter.
1. Decreed in the Bible itself is the universal norm that women should be regarded with love and respect but, through the ages, men have responded to that injunction with indifference, on the hubristic conceit that women constitute the inferior sex. Nowhere has that prejudice against womankind been so pervasive as in the field of labor, especially on the matter of equal employment opportunities and standards. In the Philippine setting, women have traditionally been considered as falling within the vulnerable groups or types of workers who must be safeguarded with preventive and remedial social legislation against discriminatory and exploitative practices in hiring, training, benefits, promotion and retention.
The Constitution, cognizant of the disparity in rights between men and women in almost all phases of social and political life, provides a gamut of protective provisions. To cite a few of the primordial ones, Section 14, Article II 8 on the Declaration of Principles and State Policies, expressly recognizes the role of women in nation-building and commands the State to ensure, at all times, the fundamental equality before the law of women and men. Corollary thereto, Section 3 of Article XIII 9 (the progenitor whereof dates back to both the 1935 and 1973 Constitution) pointedly requires the State to afford full protection to labor and to promote full employment and equality of employment opportunities for all, including an assurance of entitlement to tenurial security of all workers. Similarly, Section 14 of Article XIII 10 mandates that the State shall protect working women through provisions for opportunities that would enable them to reach their full potential.
2. Corrective labor and social laws on gender inequality have emerged with more frequency in the years since the Labor Code was enacted on May 1, 1974 as Presidential Decree No. 442, largely due to our country's commitment as a signatory to the United Nations Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination Against Women (CEDAW). 11
Principal among these laws are Republic Act No. 6727 12 which explicitly prohibits discrimination against women with respect to terms and conditions of employment, promotion, and training opportunities; Republic Act No. 6955 13 which bans the "mail-order-bride" practice for a fee and the export of female labor to countries that cannot guarantee protection to the rights of women workers; Republic Act No. 7192 14 also known as the "Women in Development and Nation Building Act," which affords women equal opportunities with men to act and to enter into contracts, and for appointment, admission, training, graduation, and commissioning in all military or similar schools of the Armed Forces of the Philippines and the Philippine National Police; Republic Act No. 7322 15 increasing the maternity benefits granted to women in the private sector; Republic Act No. 7877 16 which outlaws and punishes sexual harassment in the workplace and in the education and training environment; and Republic Act No. 8042, 17 or the "Migrant Workers and Overseas Filipinos Act of 1995," which prescribes as a matter of policy, inter alia, the deployment of migrant workers, with emphasis on women, only in countries where their rights are secure. Likewise, it would not be amiss to point out that in the Family Code, 18 women's rights in the field of civil law have been greatly enhanced and expanded.
In the Labor Code, provisions governing the rights of women workers are found in Articles 130 to 138 thereof. Article 130 involves the right against particular kinds of night work while Article 132 ensures the right of women to be provided with facilities and standards which the Secretary of Labor may establish to ensure their health and safety. For purposes of labor and social legislation, a woman working in a nightclub, cocktail lounge, massage clinic, bar or other similar establishments shall be considered as an employee under Article 138. Article 135, on the other hand, recognizes a woman's right against discrimination with respect to terms and conditions of employment on account simply of sex. Finally, and this brings us to the issue at hand, Article 136 explicitly prohibits discrimination merely by reason of the marriage of a female employee.
3. Acknowledged as paramount in the due process scheme is the constitutional guarantee of protection to labor and security of tenure. Thus, an employer is required, as a condition sine qua non prior to severance of the employment ties of an individual under his employ, to convincingly establish, through substantial evidence, the existence of a valid and just cause in dispensing with the services of such employee, one's labor being regarded as constitutionally protected property.
On the other hand, it is recognized that regulation of manpower by the company falls within the so-called management prerogatives, which prescriptions encompass the matter of hiring, supervision of workers, work assignments, working methods and assignments, as well as regulations on the transfer of employees, lay-off of workers, and the discipline, dismissal, and recall of employees. 19 As put in a case, an employer is free to regulate, according to his discretion and best business judgment, all aspects of employment, "from hiring to firing," except in cases of unlawful discrimination or those which may be provided by law. 20
In the case at bar, petitioner's policy of not accepting or considering as disqualified from work any woman worker who contracts marriage runs afoul of the test of, and the right against, discrimination, afforded all women workers by our labor laws and by no less than the Constitution. Contrary to petitioner's assertion that it dismissed private respondent from employment on account of her dishonesty, the record discloses clearly that her ties with the company were dissolved principally because of the company's policy that married women are not qualified for employment in PT & T, and not merely because of her supposed acts of dishonesty.
That it was so can easily be seen from the memorandum sent to private respondent by Delia M. Oficial, the branch supervisor of the company, with the reminder, in the words of the latter, that "you're fully aware that the company is not accepting married women employee (sic), as it was verbally instructed to you." 21 Again, in the termination notice sent to her by the same branch supervisor, private respondent was made to understand that her severance from the service was not only by reason of her concealment of her married status but, over and on top of that, was her violation of the company's policy against marriage ("and even told you that married women employees are not applicable [sic] or accepted in our company.") 22 Parenthetically, this seems to be the curious reason why it was made to appear in the initiatory pleadings that petitioner was represented in this case only by its said supervisor and not by its highest ranking officers who would otherwise be solidarily liable with the corporation. 23
Verily, private respondent's act of concealing the true nature of her status from PT & T could not be properly characterized as willful or in bad faith as she was moved to act the way she did mainly because she wanted to retain a permanent job in a stable company. In other words, she was practically forced by that very same illegal company policy into misrepresenting her civil status for fear of being disqualified from work. While loss of confidence is a just cause for termination of employment, it should not be simulated. 24 It must rest on an actual breach of duty committed by the employee and not on the employer's caprices. 25 Furthermore, it should never be used as a subterfuge for causes which are improper, illegal, or unjustified. 26
In the present controversy, petitioner's expostulations that it dismissed private respondent, not because the latter got married but because she concealed that fact, does have a hollow ring. Her concealment, so it is claimed, bespeaks dishonesty hence the consequent loss of confidence in her which justified her dismissal.
Petitioner would asseverate, therefore, that while it has nothing against marriage, it nonetheless takes umbrage over the concealment of that fact. This improbable reasoning, with interstitial distinctions, perturbs the Court since private respondent may well be minded to claim that the imputation of dishonesty should be the other way around.
Petitioner would have the Court believe that although private respondent defied its policy against its female employees contracting marriage, what could be an act of insubordination was inconsequential. What it submits as unforgivable is her concealment of that marriage yet, at the same time, declaring that marriage as a trivial matter to which it supposedly has no objection. In other words, PT & T says it gives its blessings to its female employees contracting marriage, despite the maternity leaves and other benefits it would consequently respond for and which obviously it would have wanted to avoid. If that employee confesses such fact of marriage, there will be no sanction; but if such employee conceals the same instead of proceeding to the confessional, she will be dismissed. This line of reasoning does not impress us as reflecting its true management policy or that we are being regaled with responsible advocacy.
This Court should be spared the ennui of strained reasoning and the tedium of propositions which confuse through less than candid arguments. Indeed, petitioner glosses over the fact that it was its unlawful policy against married women, both on the aspects of qualification and retention, which compelled private respondent to conceal her supervenient marriage. It was, however, that very policy alone which was the cause of private respondent's secretive conduct now complained of. It is then apropos to recall the familiar saying that he who is the cause of the cause is the cause of the evil caused.
Finally, petitioner's collateral insistence on the admission of private respondent that she supposedly misappropriated company funds, as an additional ground to dismiss her from employment, is somewhat insincere and self-serving. Concededly, private respondent admitted in the course of the proceedings that she failed to remit some of her collections, but that is an altogether different story. The fact is that she was dismissed solely because of her concealment of her marital status, and not on the basis of that supposed defalcation of company funds. That the labor arbiter would thus consider petitioner's submissions on this supposed dishonesty as a mere afterthought, just to bolster its case for dismissal, is a perceptive conclusion born of experience in labor cases. For, there was no showing that private respondent deliberately misappropriated the amount or whether her failure to remit the same was through negligence and, if so, whether the negligence was in nature simple or grave. In fact, it was merely agreed that private respondent execute a promissory note to refund the same, which she did, and the matter was deemed settled as a peripheral issue in the labor case.
Private respondent, it must be observed, had gained regular status at the time of her dismissal. When she was served her walking papers on January 29, 1992, she was about to complete the probationary period of 150 days as she was contracted as a probationary employee on September 2, 1991. That her dismissal would be effected just when her probationary period was winding down clearly raises the plausible conclusion that it was done in order to prevent her from earning security of tenure. 27 On the other hand, her earlier stints with the company as reliever were undoubtedly those of a regular employee, even if the same were for fixed periods, as she performed activities which were essential or necessary in the usual trade and business of PT & T. 28 The primary standard of determining regular employment is the reasonable connection between the activity performed by the employee in relation to the business or trade of the employer. 29
As an employee who had therefore gained regular status, and as she had been dismissed without just cause, she is entitled to reinstatement without loss of seniority rights and other privileges and to full back wages, inclusive of allowances and other benefits or their monetary equivalent. 30 However, as she had undeniably committed an act of dishonesty in concealing her status, albeit under the compulsion of an unlawful imposition of petitioner, the three-month suspension imposed by respondent NLRC must be upheld to obviate the impression or inference that such act should be condoned. It would be unfair to the employer if she were to return to its fold without any sanction whatsoever for her act which was not totally justified. Thus, her entitlement to back wages, which shall be computed from the time her compensation was withheld up to the time of her actual reinstatement, shall be reduced by deducting therefrom the amount corresponding to her three months suspension.
4. The government, to repeat, abhors any stipulation or policy in the nature of that adopted by petitioner PT & T. The Labor Code state, in no uncertain terms, as follows:
This provision had a studied history for its origin can be traced to Section 8 of Presidential Decree No. 148, 31 better known as the "Women and
It would be worthwhile to reflect upon and adopt here the rationalization in Zialcita, et al. vs. Philippine Air Lines, 33 a decision that emanated from the Office of the President. There, a policy of Philippine Air Lines requiring that prospective flight attendants must be single and that they will be automatically separated from the service once they marry was declared void, it being violative of the clear mandate in Article 136 of the Labor Code with regard to discrimination against married women. Thus:
The judgment of the Court of Appeals in Gualberto, et al. vs. Marinduque Mining & Industrial Corporation 34 considered as void a policy of the same nature. In said case, respondent, in dismissing from the service the complainant, invoked a policy of the firm to consider female employees in the project it was undertaking as separated the moment they get married due to lack of facilities for married women. Respondent further claimed that complainant was employed in the project with an oral understanding that her services would be terminated when she gets married. Branding the policy of the employer as an example of "discriminatory chauvinism" tantamount to denying equal employment opportunities to women simply on account of their sex, the appellate court struck down said employer policy as unlawful in view of its repugnance to the Civil Code, Presidential Decree No. 148 and the Constitution.
Under American jurisprudence, job requirements which establish employer preference or conditions relating to the marital status of an employee are categorized as a "sex-plus" discrimination where it is imposed on one sex and not on the other. Further, the same should be evenly applied and must not inflict adverse effects on a racial or sexual group which is protected by federal job discrimination laws. Employment rules that forbid or restrict the employment of married women, but do not apply to married men, have been held to violate Title VII of the United States Civil Rights Act of 1964, the main federal statute prohibiting job discrimination against employees and applicants on the basis of, among other things, sex. 35
Further, it is not relevant that the rule is not directed against all women but just against married women. And, where the employer discriminates against married women, but not against married men, the variable is sex and the discrimination is unlawful. 36 Upon the other hand, a requirement that a woman employee must remain unmarried could be justified as a "bona fide occupational qualification," or BFOQ, where the particular requirements of the job would justify the same, but not on the ground of a general principle, such as the desirability of spreading work in the workplace. A requirement of that nature would be valid provided it reflects an inherent quality reasonably necessary for satisfactory job performance. Thus, in one case, a no-marriage rule applicable to both male and female flight attendants, was regarded as unlawful since the restriction was not related to the job performance of the flight attendants. 37
5. Petitioner's policy is not only in derogation of the provisions of Article 136 of the Labor Code on the right of a woman to be free from any kind of stipulation against marriage in connection with her employment, but it likewise assaults good morals and public policy, tending as it does to deprive a woman of the freedom to choose her status, a privilege that by all accounts inheres in the individual as an intangible and inalienable right. 38 Hence, while it is true that the parties to a contract may establish any agreements, terms, and conditions that they may deem convenient, the same should not be contrary to law, morals, good customs, public order, or public policy. 39 Carried to its logical consequences, it may even be said that petitioner's policy against legitimate marital bonds would encourage illicit or common-law relations and subvert the sacrament of marriage.
Parenthetically, the Civil Code provisions on the contract of labor state that the relations between the parties, that is, of capital and labor, are not merely contractual, impressed as they are with so much public interest that the same should yield to the common good. 40 It goes on to intone that neither capital nor labor should visit acts of oppression against the other, nor impair the interest or convenience of the public. 41 In the final reckoning, the danger of just such a policy against marriage followed by petitioner PT & T is that it strikes at the very essence, ideals and purpose of marriage as an inviolable social institution and, ultimately, of the family as the foundation of the nation. 42 That it must be effectively interdicted here in all its indirect, disguised or dissembled forms as discriminatory conduct derogatory of the laws of the land is not only in order but imperatively required.
ON THE FOREGOING PREMISES, the petition of Philippine Telegraph and Telephone Company is hereby DISMISSED for lack of merit, with double costs against petitioner.
Romero, Puno, Mendoza and Torres, Jr., JJ., concur.
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