Case: Did Tecno and three other defendants deceive Mr Festus Irenose (the claimant) into entering into a contract of employment with Total Data, as against Tecno?
This case is of particular interest to Nairametrics Research considering what it means for companies that rely on recruiting agencies to hire contract staff on their behalf. Contract staffing arrangements are one of the most used (cost-efficient) measures deployed by mega organisations that wish to keep their overheads light while also avoiding the pitfalls of downsizing whenever they wish to.
To shed away staff during rough times, they simply deal with their recruitment partners instructing them to reduce overhangs seconded to them. This, they believe, absolves them of any liability typically associated with terminating an employment or implementing mass sack.
However, this case may just upend this time-tested human resource strategy. Let’s get to the story.
Financial Damages sought
DAMAGES in the sum of N100, 000, 000 (One Hundred Million Naira) for the tort of deceit.
EXEMPLARY DAMAGES in the sum of N250, 000, 000 (Two Hundred and Fifty Million Naira).
Mr Festus Irenose claimed he was employed in May 2015 as a staff of Tecno Telecoms Ltd and entitled to a net salary of N300,000 plus other entitlements. However, upon reviewing the offer, all the terms he agreed was not included in the employment letter. In addition, the letter was issued in the name of Total Data Ltd, a recruitment agency.
Festus then asked one of the defendants, Mr Adebo Adegboye why the employer was Total Data and not Tecno as he had expected. Mr Adegboye then told Festus that Total Data was the recruiting agency of Tecno and that all his benefits will be given to him accordingly. Subsequently, Festus was issued an ID Card by Tecno and he started work in the company.
A few months later, Festus observed he was paid N299, 913.97 instead of the N300k he was expecting, On inquiry from Mr Adegboye and one Mr Ray Fang, he was told that his salary was on the “high side” and that this should not be discussed with anyone else. However, 4 months into his employment, he received an email from Total Data Ltd that his employment has been terminated by the company. The termination was further confirmed by Mr Fang via an email to Festus.
Mr Festus got a lawyer who then wrote to Tecno Telecoms Ltd complaining of a breach of contract. He also claimed his contract was not with Total Data but with Tecno as he never had any intention of working with the latter. His plan was to always work with a telecommunications company. However, Tecno replied that they were not the employers of Mr Festus.
Festus and his lawyers went to court claiming that he was deceived by Tecno, Mr Fang, and Mr Adegboye joining the three parties as defendants. Festus also said he resigned from a lucrative employment with the intention of working with the telecommunication company; and that Tecno deliberately connived with the Total Data to execute an obscure employment policy or racket to enable Tecno avoid statutory obligations including pensions, taxes and levies placed on every employer under Nigerian Laws as well as to enable the 1st Defendant to violate contractual obligations.
The Defendants Claims
The defendants told the judge that Mr Festus was never employed by Tecno and that by the contract dated 15th May 2015, he was an employee of Total Data seconded to work with Tecno. They also claim that they did not at any time indicate that he was an employee of Tecno and that Mr Festus should have rejected the contract when it was clearly stated that Total Data was the employee. They also stated that Mr Festus never disagreed with the terms of his employment at any point with Total Data.
They also claimed that Mr Festus could not have been shocked or destabilized as he was at all times aware of who his employer was, based on the offer of employment letter, identity card bearing the name of Total Data, monthly remuneration from Total Data as well as his letter of termination from the Total Data. The defendants also claimed that the use of recruitment agencies is a judicially noticed and accepted norm and that Festus had the prerogative upon being offered employment by Total Data to decline or accept.
Finally, the defendants also indicated that they employed Mr Festus via an employment letter dated 25th of May 2015 to work in Tecno as a training Manager of which he accepted all terms and conditions in the employment letter, and was issued an identity card by Total Data. They also said salary was also paid to Mr Festus by Total Data and that Tecno was not privy to the employment of Mr Festus with Total Data.
Mr Festus responded to the claims by the defendants that he resumed the employment with the intention of working with Tecno. He also claimed that upon resumption, he joined other new recruits in an in-house training for all new staff of Tecno. The training was conducted by the Finance and Human Resource Department of Tecno and was part of their compulsory induction. Mr Festus also stated that his August 2015 Salary was paid by Tecno under the caption “Tecno August Salary” and that after his employment was terminated, he was issued with an Exit Clearance Form, indicating accordingly and it was signed by four different staff of Tecno.
Festus also stated that he wrote the electronic mail dated 1st day of June 2015 to Total Data after he had been assured that they were merely a recruiting agency. He stated that it was Tecno who issued the identity card to him and also issued exit clearance to him.
In one of the exhibits brought before the judge, Mr Adegboye told Mr Festus that “there are other (Sic) Benefits-In-Kind offered to employees here at Tecno as well.” The judge opined that the last clause is susceptible to two interpretations.
One is that being employed in Tecno, there are other benefits apart from the N300,000.00. The second suggests that though not directly employed in Tecno, there are other benefits you will get from Tecno.
In one of the exhibits shown, Mr Festus told Mr Adegboye that he will get back to him and then subsequently, communicated his acceptance of the offer, expressing hope that his other benefits will be captured in the offer letter. Adegboye responded to acknowledge the Claimant’s acceptance of the offer and his being in their office earlier to discuss ‘financials.’
What the Judge ruled
After hearing both sides, Hon. Justice Elizabeth A. Oji PhD, among other considerations, identified the following:
She is unable to find the elements of deceit and evidence of any misstatement in all that was presented. Whatever statements, whether deceitful or misstated that may have existed, was totally cured by the execution of the offer for employment.
The judge also said Mr Festus has been unable to prove that any deceitful, fraudulent or negligent statements were made to him. “The existence of exhibit C9/D2 (the employment letter) executed by him, presumably after oral negotiations, and after he had had time to study it, destroys whatever claim that he was not aware of the nature of the employment he was entering into. Assuming the Defendants represented a different set of facts to the Claimant, and presented an offer letter expressing entirely different terms other than what was agreed, and the Claimant went ahead to sign the contract, then he cannot succeed in an action for damages premised on any false or misleading representation.”
Thus the judge insisted that Mr Festus was well aware of the nature of the employment he was getting into.
The judge also stated that while she understands the pain of losing a job four months after resigning from prior employment, the case before her was about “deceit” and not a challenge to the termination or legality of the relationship he had with the parties.
Finally, the judge ruled that she found no proof that Mr Festus Irenose was deceived into entering the employment relationship.
“I have found that there is no proof before me to support that he was deceived. To hold otherwise will question the Claimants education and professionalism in its totality. Having thus found, it means the Claimants entire case crumbles; and is hereby dismissed. Judgment is entered accordingly. I make no order as to cost,” the judge ruled.