[G.R. NO. 154503 : February 29, 2008]
UNIWIDE SALES WAREHOUSE CLUB and VIVIAN M. APDUHAN, Petitioners, v. NATIONAL LABOR RELATIONS COMMISSION and AMALIA P. KAWADA, Respondents.
D E C I S I O N
Before the Court is a Petition for Review on Certiorari under Rule 45 of the Rules of Court filed by Uniwide Sales Warehouse Club (Uniwide) and Vivian M. Apduhan (Apduhan) seeking to annul the Decision1 dated November 23, 2001 and the Resolution2 dated July 23, 2002 of the Court of Appeals (CA) in CA-G.R. SP No. 64581.
The facts of the case:
Amalia P. Kawada (private respondent) started her employment with Uniwide sometime in 1981 as a saleslady. Over the years, private respondent worked herself within Uniwide's corporate ladder until she attained the rank of Full Assistant Store Manager with a monthly compensation of
As a Full Assistant Store Manager, private respondent's primary function was to manage and oversee the operation of the Fashion and Personal Care, GSR Toys, and Home Furnishing Departments of Uniwide, to ensure its continuous profitability as well as to see to it that the established company policies and procedures were properly complied with and implemented in her departments.3
Sometime in 1998, Uniwide received reports from the other employees regarding some problems in the departments managed by the private respondent.4 Thus, on March 15, 1998, Uniwide, through Store Manager Apduhan, issued a Memorandum addressed to the private respondent summarizing the various reported incidents signifying unsatisfactory performance on the latter's part which include the commingling of good and damaged items, sale of a voluminous quantity of damaged toys and ready-to-wear items at unreasonable prices, and failure to submit inventory reports. Uniwide asked private respondent for concrete plans on how she can effectively perform her job.5 In a letter6 dated March 23, 1998, private respondent answered all the allegations contained in the March 15, 1998 Memorandum.
Unsatisfied, Apduhan sent another Memorandum7 dated March 30, 1998 to private respondent where Apduhan claimed that the answers given by the private respondent in her March 23, 1998 letter were all hypothetical and did not answer directly the allegations attributed to her.8 Apduhan elaborated the incidents contained in the March 15, 1998 Memorandum.
On June 30, 1998, Apduhan sent another Memorandum9 seeking from the private respondent an explanation regarding the incidents reported by Uniwide employees and security personnel for alleged irregularities committed by the private respondent such as allowing the entry of unauthorized persons inside a restricted area during non-office hours, falsification of or inducing another employee to falsify personnel or company records, sleeping and allowing a non-employee to sleep inside the private office, unauthorized search and bringing out of company records, purchase of damaged home furnishing items without the approval from superior, taking advantage of buying damaged items in large quantity, alteration of approval slips for the purchase of damaged items and abandonment of work.10 In a letter11 dated July 9, 1998, private respondent answered the allegations made against her.
On July 27, 1998, private respondent sought medical help from the company physician, Dr. Marivelle C. Zambrano (Dr. Zambrano), due to complaints of dizziness.12 Finding private respondent to be suffering from hypertension, Dr. Zambrano advised her to take five days sick leave.13
On July 30, 1998, private respondent was able to obtain from Dr. Zambrano a certificate of fitness to work,14 which she presented to Apduhan the following day.15 It turned out that Dr. Zambrano inadvertently wrote "Menia," the surname of the company nurse, in the medical certificate instead of private respondent's surname.16 Thereafter, private respondent claims that Apduhan shouted at her and prevented her from resuming work because she was not the person referred to in the medical certificate.17 After private respondent left Apduhan's office, a certain Evelyn Maigue, Apduhan's assistant, approached the private respondent to get the certification so that it may be photocopied. When she refused to give the certification, private respondent claims that Apduhan once again shouted at her which caused her hypertension to recur and eventually caused her to collapse. Private respondent's head hit the edge of the table before she fell down on the ground for which she suffered contusions at the back of her head, as evidenced by the medical certificate18 issued by Dr. George K. C. Cheu of the Chinese General Hospital & Medical Center.19
On August 1, 1998, private respondent reported the confrontation between her and Apduhan to the Central Police District.20 Likewise, private respondent was able to obtain from Dr. Zambrano the corrected certification21 together with the clarification that the name "Amalia Menia" written on the July 30, 1998 certification referred to Amalia Kawada.22
Thereafter, counsel for private respondent sent a letter23 dated August 1, 1998 to Apduhan stating that the latter's alleged continued harassment and vexation against private respondent created a hostile work environment which had become life threatening, and that they had no alternative but to bring the matter to the proper forum.24
On August 2, 1998, Apduhan issued a Memorandum,25 received on the same day by Edgardo Kawada, the husband of private respondent, advising the latter of a hearing scheduled on August 12, 1998 to be held at the Uniwide Office in Quirino Highway, and warning her that failure to appear shall constitute as waiver and the case shall be submitted for decision based on available papers and evidence.26
On August 3, 1998, private respondent filed a case for illegal dismissal before the Labor Arbiter (LA).27
Counsel for private respondent sent a letter28 dated August 8, 1998 to Apduhan claiming that the August 2, 1998 Memorandum was a mere afterthought, in an attempt to justify private respondent's dismissal; and that on August 3, 1998, private respondent had already filed charges against Uniwide and Apduhan (petitioners).
On August 8, 1998, Apduhan sent a letter addressed to private respondent, which the latter received on even date, advising private respondent to report for work, as she had been absent since August 1, 1998; and warning her that upon her failure to do so, she shall be considered to have abandoned her job.29
On September 1, 1998, Apduhan issued a Memorandum30 stating that since private respondent was unable to attend the scheduled August 12, 1998 hearing, the case was evaluated on the basis of the evidence on record; and enumerating the pieces of evidence of the irregularities and violations of company rules committed by private respondent, the latter's defenses and the corresponding findings by Uniwide. Portions of the Memorandum read:
In its Decision34 dated December 27, 2000, the NLRC ruled in favor of private respondent, reversing the LA, to wit:
According to the NLRC, private respondent was subjected to inhuman and anti-social treatment oppressive to labor. Private respondent received successive memoranda from Apduhan accusing the former of different infractions, some of which offenses complainant was informed of only a year after the alleged commission. Further, Apduhan's ill will and motive to edge private respondent out of her employ was displayed by Apduhan's stubborn refusal to allow private respondent to continue her work on the flimsy excuse that the medical certificate did not bear her correct surname, while Apduhan knew for a fact that the same could not have referred to another person but to private respondent.36
Also, the NLRC observed that private respondent was not afforded due process by petitioners because the former was not given an opportunity to a fair hearing in that the investigation was conducted after private respondent had been constructively dismissed; and that there was no point for private respondent to still attend the investigation set on August 12, 1998 after her constructive dismissal on July 31, 1998 and after she had already filed her complaint.
Feeling aggrieved, petitioners appealed the NLRC Decision to the CA. In the assailed Decision37 dated November 23, 2001, the CA affirmed in toto the NLRC Decision.
Hence, the present petition.38
The sole issue raised before the Court is:
It is a well-settled rule that the jurisdiction of the Supreme Court in Petitions for Review on Certiorari under Rule 45 of the Rules of Court is limited to reviewing errors of law, not of fact.40 The Court is not a trier of facts. In the exercise of its power of review, the findings of fact of the CA are conclusive and binding and consequently, it is not the Court's function to analyze or weigh evidence all over again.41
The foregoing rule, however, is not absolute. The Court, in Dusit Hotel Nikko v. National Union of Workers in Hotel, Restaurant and Allied Industries (NUWHRAIN),42 held that the factual findings of the NLRC as affirmed by the CA, are accorded high respect and finality unless the factual findings and conclusions of the LA clash with those of the NLRC and the CA in which case the Court will have to review the records and the arguments of the parties to resolve the factual issues and render substantial justice to the parties.43
The present case is clouded by conflict of factual perceptions. Consequently, the Court is constrained to review the factual findings of the CA which contravene the findings of facts of the LA.
The Court's Ruling
The petition is meritorious. After a thorough examination of the conflicting positions of the parties, the Court finds the records bereft of evidence to substantiate the conclusions of the NLRC and the CA that private respondent was constructively dismissed from employment.
Case law defines constructive dismissal as a cessation of work because continued employment is rendered impossible, unreasonable or unlikely; when there is a demotion in rank or diminution in pay or both; or when a clear discrimination, insensibility, or disdain by an employer becomes unbearable to the employee.44
The test of constructive dismissal is whether a reasonable person in the employee's position would have felt compelled to give up his position under the circumstances.45 It is an act amounting to dismissal but made to appear as if it were not. In fact, the employee who is constructively dismissed may be allowed to keep on coming to work. Constructive dismissal is therefore a dismissal in disguise. The law recognizes and resolves this situation in favor of employees in order to protect their rights and interests from the coercive acts of the employer.46
In the present case, private respondent claims that from the months of February to June 1998, she had been subjected to constant harassment, ridicule and inhumane treatment by Apduhan, with the hope that the latter can get the private respondent to resign.47 The harassment allegedly came in the form of successive memoranda which private respondent would receive almost every week, enumerating a litany of offenses and maligning her reputation and spreading rumors among the employees that private respondent shall be dismissed soon.48 The last straw of the imputed harassment was the July 31, 1998 incident wherein private respondent's life was put in danger when she lost consciousness due to hypertension as a result of Apduhan's alleged hostility and shouting.49
The Court finds that private respondent's allegation of harassment is a specious statement which contains nothing but empty imputation of a fact that could hardly be given any evidentiary weight by this Court.50 Private respondent's bare allegations of constructive dismissal, when uncorroborated by the evidence on record, cannot be given credence.51
The sending of several memoranda addressed to a managerial or supervisory employee concerning various violations of company rules and regulations, committed on different occasions, are not unusual. The alleged February to June 1998 series of memoranda given by petitioners to private respondent asking the latter to explain the alleged irregular acts should not be construed as a form of harassment but merely an exercise of management's prerogative to discipline its employees.
The right to impose disciplinary sanctions upon an employee for just and valid cause, as well as the authority to determine the existence of said cause in accordance with the norms of due process, pertains in the first place to the employer.52 Precisely, petitioners gave private respondent successive memoranda so as to give the latter an opportunity to controvert the charges against her. Clearly, the memoranda are not forms of harassment, but petitioners' compliance with the requirements of due process.
The July 31, 1998 confrontation where Apduhan allegedly shouted at private respondent which caused the latter's hypertension to recur and eventually caused her to collapse cannot by itself support a finding of constructive dismissal by the NLRC and the CA. Even if true, the act of Apduhan in shouting at private respondent was an isolated outburst on the part of Apduhan that did not show a clear discrimination or insensibility that would render the working condition of private respondent unbearable.
Moreover, the finding of the NLRC that Apduhan knew for a fact that the certification presented by private respondent referred to the latter and not to another person is a mere conjecture. There is no evidence to sustain the same. This Court has consistently held that litigations cannot be properly resolved by suppositions, deductions, or even presumptions, with no basis in evidence, for the truth must have to be determined by the hard rules of admissibility and proof.53
Self-serving and unsubstantiated declarations are insufficient to establish a case before quasi-judicial bodies. Well-entrenched is the rule that the quantum of evidence required to establish a fact in quasi-judicial bodies is substantial evidence. Substantial evidence is such amount of relevant evidence which a reasonable mind might accept as adequate to support a conclusion, even if other equally reasonable minds might opine otherwise.54
On petitioners' claim of abandonment by private respondent, well-settled is the rule that to constitute abandonment of work, two elements must concur: (1) the employee must have failed to report for work or must have been absent without valid or justifiable reason, and (2) there must have been a clear intention on the part of the employee to sever the employer-employee relationship manifested by some overt act. The employer has the burden of proof to show the employee's deliberate and unjustified refusal to resume his employment without any intention of returning. Mere absence is not sufficient. There must be an unequivocal intent on the part of the employee to discontinue his employment.55
Private respondent's failure to report for work despite the August 8, 1998 letter sent by Apduhan to private respondent advising the latter to report for work is not sufficient to constitute abandonment. It is a settled rule that failure to report for work after a notice to return to work has been served does not necessarily constitute abandonment.56
Private respondent mistakenly believed that the successive memoranda sent to her from March 1998 to June 1998 constituted discrimination, insensibility or disdain which was tantamount to constructive dismissal. Thus, private respondent filed a case for constructive dismissal against petitioners and consequently stopped reporting for work.
In the case of Lemery Savings & Loan Bank v. National Labor Relations Commission,57 the Court held:
The Court finds that petitioners were not able to establish that private respondent deliberately refused to continue her employment without justifiable reason. To repeat, the Court will not make a drastic conclusion that private respondent chose to abandon her work on the basis of her mistaken belief that she had been constructively dismissed by Uniwide.
Nonetheless, the Court agrees with the findings of the LA that the termination of private respondent was grounded on the existence of just cause under Article 282 (c) of the Labor Code59 or willful breach by the employee of the trust reposed on him by his employer or a duly authorized representative.60
Private respondent occupies a managerial position. As a managerial employee, mere existence of a basis for believing that such employee has breached the trust of his employer would suffice for his dismissal.61
In Caoile v. National Labor Relations Commission,62 the Court distinguished the treatment of managerial employees from that of rank-and-file personnel, insofar as the application of the loss of trust and confidence is concerned. The Court held:
In order to give private respondent an opportunity to explain the several violations of company rules she allegedly committed, private respondent was given several memoranda, to which she initially responded. Also, to give private respondent an opportunity to be heard, defend herself, confront the witnesses against her as well as to present her own evidence, Apduhan scheduled a hearing on August 12, 1998, notice of which was sent on August 2, 1998 and duly received by private respondent's husband on the same day.65 This fact alone would have indicated to private respondent that there was no intention on the part of petitioners to effect her constructive dismissal. However, private respondent opted to file the complaint for illegal dismissal the next day; and not to attend the scheduled hearing on August 12, 1998. Thus, petitioners were justified to decide the case on the basis of the records at hand.66
The irregularities and offenses committed by private respondent, corroborated by the various pieces of evidence supporting such charges, i.e. records, reports and testimonies of Uniwide employees,67 in the mind of the Court, constitute substantial evidence that private respondent is in fact responsible for the alleged charges.
To disprove the charges against her, private respondent presented a letter68 dated July 29, 1998 from a former Uniwide employee, Luisa Astrologo (Astrologo), stating that the latter was urged by her manager, a certain Ralph Galang, to testify against private respondent for improper behavior concerning the "dented product for which private respondent is abusing her power of reserving and picking the best product she can afford to dispatch."69 The letter, however, does not state that the charges Astrologo imputed to private respondent were false. The letter merely states that Astrologo "does not see anything wrong about the matter."70 Moreover, in her Memorandum,71 filed with the Court, private respondent merely cited inconsistencies in the reports regarding the charges imputed to her without denying the said allegations.
It is true that private respondent had risen from the ranks, from being a saleslady in 1981 to a Full Assistant Store Manager in 1995. She worked for Uniwide for almost 17 years with a clean bill of record. However, these facts are not sufficient to overcome the findings of petitioners that the private respondent is guilty of the charges imputed to her.
Finally, the NLRC and the CA erred in finding that private respondent was denied due process. Private respondent claims that she lost the opportunity to be heard when she was constructively dismissed on July 31, 1998,72 and that it was only after she filed a complaint for illegal dismissal with the NLRC on August 3, 1998 that petitioners notified the private respondent of the investigation which will be conducted on August 12, 1998 concerning her alleged offenses. The Memorandum dated August 2, 199873 completely demolishes such claims. It shows on its face that private respondent received the Memorandum on August 2, 1998, a day before she filed the complaint for illegal dismissal against petitioners; and that private respondent was notified that the hearing was scheduled on August 12, 1998 and explicitly warned her that her failure to appear thereat shall mean a waiver to be heard, and the case shall then be submitted for decision based on available papers and evidence.
In reality, private respondent, as found earlier was not terminated on July 31, 1998. There was no constructive dismissal. Again, the successive memoranda presented by private respondent and the alleged July 31, 1998 shouting incident are not sufficient to establish her claim of harassment.
However, as to the September 1, 1998 Memorandum where the private complainant was dismissed for loss of trust and confidence, the Court finds the notice of the scheduled August 12, 1998 hearing sufficient compliance with the due process requirement.
The essence of due process is simply an opportunity to be heard, or as applied to administrative proceedings, a fair and reasonable opportunity to explain one's side.74 It is not the denial of the right to be heard but denial of the opportunity to be heard that constitutes violation of due process of law.75 In the instant case, private respondent was again notified of the August 12, 1998 hearing through a letter76 dated August 8, 1998 which was received by private respondent herself.77 Clearly, private respondent was given an opportunity to be heard. However, private respondent chose not to attend the scheduled hearing because of her mistaken belief that she had already been constructively dismissed.
At this point, the Court agrees with and adopts the findings of the LA in his Decision:78
It should be remembered that the Philippine Constitution, while inexorably committed towards the protection of the working class from exploitation and unfair treatment, nevertheless mandates the policy of social justice so as to strike a balance between an avowed predilection for labor, on the one hand, and the maintenance of legal rights of capital, the proverbial hen that lays the golden egg, on the other. Indeed, we should not be unmindful of the legal norm that justice is in every case for the deserving, to be dispensed with in light of established facts, the applicable law, and existing jurisprudence.80
WHEREFORE, the instant petition is GRANTED. The Decision dated November 23, 2001 and Resolution dated July 23, 2002 of the Court of Appeals in CA-G.R. SP No. 64581 together with the Decision dated December 27, 2000 of the National Labor Relations Commission are REVERSED and SET ASIDE. The complaint of private respondent Amalia P. Kawada is DISMISSED.
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