The Presiding Judge, Ibadan Judicial Division of the National Industrial Court, Hon. Justice Dele Peters has declared the compulsory retirement of Mrs. Yinka Tunji-Ojo by the Odu’a Investment Company Limited as mala fide, unlawful and a contravention of the company employee’s handbook.
The Court held that the retirement of Mrs. Tunji-Ojo was in breach of the contractual terms between the parties, and ordered Odu’a Investment to pay Mrs Tunji-Ojo the sum of Eighty Three Million and Thirty Two Thousand, Eight Hundred and Twenty Seven Naira and Sixteen Kobo (N83,032,827.16) only being salaries and emoluments for the remaining period (40 months) she would have served the firm up to attaining the mandatory retirement age of 60 years.
However, the court ordered Mrs. Tunji-Ojo to pay to the Odu’a Investment the sum of N3,165,576.00 being the repayment of the outstanding loan she obtained from the Cooperative Society of the firm, and the sum of N649k being 75% of the carrying cost as per Company’s Policy on the status of the car assigned to her while in the employment of the firm.
From facts, the claimant- Mrs. Yinka Tunji-Ojo had submitted that she was engaged into the service of Odu’a Investment on 15th March 2001 as the Manager and rose through the ranks and file to the position of General Manager, Finance and Investment, a position next to the highest in the company’s organogram; that contrary to the content, intent and spirit of the employment agreement, her employment was purportedly determined on 2020 while she was just barely in her fifty-six (56) and long after she had crossed the age of forty-five (45) years which is the age of voluntary retirement.
Under cross-examination, she stated that she returned the sum of Seventeen Million Naira sent to her account for entitlement and the sum of =N=2.7 Million credited to her account as 3 months’ basic salary in lieu of notice, urged the court to grant the reliefs sought.
In defence, the Defendant- Odu’a Investment Ltd averred that the compulsory retirement of Mrs. Tunji-Ojo was done in accordance with the provisions of its Employee’s Handbook and the Claimant was paid her three months’ salary in lieu of notice.
Odu’a Investment maintained that once an employee clocks the age of 45 years, such an employee may retire voluntarily or be retired by the Defendant; that there is no ambiguity in the clause that was activated to retire Mrs. Tunji-Ojo as she could have been the party to activate the same clause.
Counsel to Odu’a Investment added that Mrs. Tunji-Ojo who was paid her retirement entitlement held on to it for one month before returning same and still maintained that the retirement was wrong and that acceptance of payment of retirement benefits renders the retirement mutual and an estoppels.
Odu’a Investment counter-claimed for the sum of N3,814,794.75 (Three Million, Eight Hundred and Fourteen Thousand, Seven Hundred and Ninety-Four Naira, Seventy-Five Kobo) being the total indebtedness of Mrs. Tunji-Ojo to the company on the cooperative loan.
Delivering the judgment, the Presiding Judge, Justice Dele Peters held that a party is never allowed by the Court to benefit from his own wrong or error, that where a document drafted by an employer is susceptible to more than one interpretation, equity dictates that the interpretation that best protects and to the advantage of the employee be adopted.
Justice Peters ruled that the proper interpretation of Clause 6.4 of the Handbook is that Odu’a Investment could only activate the retirement clause upon Mrs. Tunji-Ojo reaching the age of 45 years and neither before nor after that age, and further held that Odu’a Investment failed to comply with the applicable rules of engagement in retiring Mrs. Tunji-Ojo.
The Court held that the compulsory retirement of Mrs. Tunji-Ojo must be approved by the Board of Odu’a Investment, as there is no evidence before the Court to show that the Board of the company approved or was even aware of the cessation of employment of Mrs. Tunji-Ojo by retirement as mandated by the employee’s handbook.
The Court reiterated that in the absence of economic downturn calling for Odu’a Investment to reduce its workforce, Odu’a Investment owes a duty to provide justifiable reason for suddenly compulsorily retiring Mrs. Tunji-Ojo, as it is against the international best practice as well as international labour standard to lay off a performing staff without justifiable reasons.