Chairman-cum-Managing Director, Assistant Manager – Administration, and Manager of Hotel Tamil Nadu
Presiding Officer of the Labour Court, Coimbatore and S. Saroja Devi.
Coram: THE HON’BLE MR JUSTICE V. LAKSHMINARAYANAN
Citation: Writ Petition No.20259 of 2014
The petitioner, the management, filed a case against Smt. S. Saroja Devi, a housekeeper responsible for overseeing the work of sweepers and sanitary workers. The management accused her of not fulfilling her duties and issued multiple charge memorandums. After a specific incident, she was suspended pending an inquiry and later dismissed after a domestic inquiry.
Saroja Devi raised an industrial dispute and attempted conciliation, but it failed. The matter was then taken to the Labour Court, Coimbatore, where the court questioned the fairness of the domestic inquiry. The court concluded that the inquiry was not conducted properly and gave the management an opportunity to present additional evidence.
The petitioners argue that S. Saroja Devi was terminated for just cause, and that the Labour Court did not give them a fair hearing. The respondents argue that S. Saroja Devi was not terminated for just cause, and that the Labour Court gave the petitioners a fair hearing.
Whether S.Saroja Devi was terminated for just cause?
Whether the Labour Court gave the petitioners a fair hearing?
Whether the writ of certiorari can be used to quash orders that are made by Labour Courts?
Arguments of the petitioners:
The petitioners argued that S.Saroja Devi was terminated for just cause. They stated that she was terminated for serious misconduct, including absenteeism, insubordination, and theft.
The petitioners also argued that the Labour Court did not give them a fair hearing. They stated that the Labour Court did not consider all of the evidence that they presented, and that the Labour Court’s decision was based on a mistake of law.
The petitioners argue that the writ of certiorari can be used to quash orders that are made by Labour Courts if there is a clear error of law.
Arguments of the respondents:
The respondents argued that S.Saroja Devi was not terminated for just cause. They stated that she was terminated for reasons that were not related to her job performance, and that the termination was therefore unfair.
The respondents also argued that the Labour Court gave the petitioners a fair hearing. They stated that the Labour Court considered all of the evidence that was presented, and that the Labour Court’s decision was based on a sound assessment of the facts.
The respondents argue that the writ of certiorari should not be used to interfere with the decisions of Labour Courts unless there is a gross injustice.
During the enquiry, the petitioner management presented witnesses, but one of them inadvertently supported the duty of the Sweepers cum Sanitary Workers rather than the management’s case. The other evidence provided by the management was considered general and did not support their argument. The witness involved in issuing the suspension order did not specify any room defects, leading the labour court to believe the charge was an afterthought. As for the remaining charges, there was only oral evidence without additional support. Based on the evaluation of evidence, the labour court concluded that the charges were not proven. Thus, the labour court found no issues with reinstating the petitioner with full benefits. However, since the employee did not show efforts to find a new job, the court granted only 25% of back wages. S. saroja devi challenged this and pleaded for 75% of back wages.
The High Court upheld the Labour Court’s decision. The bench found that the petitioners had not provided any evidence to support their claims and that the Labour Court had been correct to find that the respondent had been treated unfairly.
The bench concluded its judgment by stating the following:
“In the absence of any evidence to support the petitioners’ claims, we are unable to find that the respondent was terminated for just cause. We therefore uphold the order of the Labour Court directing the reinstatement of the respondent and directing the petitioners to pay her back wages.”
The high court ordered that instead of 25% back wages, the management is directed to pay 50% back wages to S.Saroja Devi (employee) and in all other respects the award of the labour court stands confirmed. The management is directed to settle the back wages within a period of twelve weeks.
The High Court’s decision in the case of S.Saroja Devi is a mixed bag. It is a setback for the petitioners, but a victory for S.Saroja Devi. The decision sends a message to employers in Tamil Nadu that they cannot terminate employees without providing evidence to support their claims. The writ of certiorari is a powerful tool that can be used to quash orders that are made by lower courts, however this case suggested that the writ of certiorari should not be used to interfere with the decisions of lower courts unless there is a clear error of law. This principle is crucial for upholding the rule of law, which ensures that all individuals, including the government, are bound by the law. If higher courts could intervene in lower court decisions without clear legal errors, it would undermine the fundamental principle of the rule of law.
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