Court rules in wrongful dismissal of S.W.A. employee

The employment contract of a former employee of the Samoa Water Authority (S.W.A.) was wrongfully terminated by the Managing Director, Seugamali’i Jammie Saena, in 2015.

This was the ruling by Justice Leiataualesa Darryl Clarke in a civil lawsuit brought by Levaai Faamoe Toremana of Vailele.

The lawsuit was filed against the first defendant, S.W.A. and Seugamali’i as the second defendant.  

The former employee was a Civil Engineer, and in 2015 was the S.W.A. Manager for Rural Operations and Maintenance Division. 

Her contract with the authority was terminated by Seugamali’i in January 2015 alleging misconduct for inappropriate and unprofessional behaviour.

In his ruling, Justice Leiataualesa said the Managing Director did not have the authority to dismiss the then Manager for Rural Operations and Maintenance. 

“I accept that the plaintiff’s employment must be treated as having come to an end on the 12th January 2015,” he stated in his ruling. 

“I am also satisfied that the plaintiff’s termination was invalid and therefore wrongful. 

“The second defendant had no authority to dismiss the plaintiff from her employment.

“For the foregoing reasons, judgement is entered for the plaintiff in the sum of $22, 628.31 being her gross salary for the period of three months and one week between 12 January 2015 and 20 April 2015 against the first defendant. 

“All other claims are dismissed.”

According to the background of the case, the Managing Director purportedly terminated Ms. Toremana’s employment on 12 January 2015 in a letter of termination she signed. 

The letter relevantly stated that “I have decided to terminate your contract”. 

In wast not until the S.W.A. Board Meeting on 26 January 2015 that the Board noted and supported the termination of Ms. Toremana’s employment by the Managing Director. 

Justice Leiataualesa’s ruling stated that the termination was for alleged misconduct for inappropriate and unprofessional behaviour involving alleged harassment of the Seugamali’i. 

It also noted Ms. Toremana willfully disobeyed a lawful order, direction or instruction given by the Managing Director. 

Justice Leiataualesa pointed out that he does not accept that the powers vested in S.W.A. under contract can be exercised by the Managing Director by virtue of the wording in the parties clause. 

He said the Managing Director had no authority to terminate Ms. Toremana’s employment on behalf of S.W.A. and therefore the termination was invalid and wrongful. 

“As I have set out, the second defendant had no authority to terminate the plaintiff’s employment,” the Court ruled. 

“It was invalid and therefore wrongful. 

“It is therefore not necessary to determine whether, as pleaded by the defendants, the plaintiff had been in breach of the contract thereby warranting her summary dismissal without notice by her employer.

“As it has been raised, I will however touch on this only briefly. 

“I am not satisfied that the defendants have proven on balance of probabilities that the plaintiff had committed serious misconduct in breach of section 6.2(ii) or was in breach of clause 6.2(v) of her contract. 

“In this context, I am not satisfied on the evidence that the plaintiff’s interaction with the second defendant on the 24th of December was inappropriate and unprofessional behaviour such as to warrant summary dismissal in accordance with clause 6.2(ii) of her contract.”

Ms. Toremana later found employment in New Zealand where she currently resides. 

She had also filed cause of action against Seugamali’i for unfairly and arbitrarily deducting $15,400 from her salary towards the costs of repairs to a vehicle hired by the authority which she had used and got into an accident.

Justice Leiataualesa said he was not satisfied that the deduction were unfair. 

He added the deduction was made in accordance with a request from Ms. Toremana made in a memorandum where she accepted responsibility and made payments for the vehicle.

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