Nancy was employed as a flight attendant by the Philippine Air Lines since 1996. On January 29, 2008, Nancy and the other crew members were subjected to customs search in Honolulu, Hawaii. Some items from the airline were found in their possession. Nancy Graham, the CBP supervisor, then sent an email to PAL regarding the search, containing the names of PAL involved in the search. Nancy was among those listed in the email. Another email contained the list of items taken from the crew. PAL then conducted an investigation where Nancy was required to comment. In her written comment, Nancy denied having taken any item from the aircraft. A copy of the emails were furnished Nancy and a notice of an administrative charge. During the hearing conducted by the panel, Nancy’s lawyer objected to PAL’s failure to specify her participation on the alleged pilferage, but the panel head brushed aside her objection and told her that a request for clarification would result to a waiver of her right to participate in the investigation. Nancy continued with the classificatory hearing due to her desire to shed light on the incident. After the investigation, the panel imposed on her a penalty of one year suspension without pay as penalty for 11 violations of company rules and regulations.
Nancy filed a case for Illegal Suspension before the NLRC which found PAL liable for illegal suspension and ordered it to pay back wages plus moral and exemplary damages as well as attorneys fees, finding that her suspension was characterised by arbitrariness and bad faith on the part of PAL.
PAL appealed the decision to the NLRC and eventually to the Court of Appeals. The Court of Appeals affirmed that Nancy was illegally suspended, but deleted the award of moral and exemplary damages as well as attorneys fees, finding that Nancy was given every opportunity to rebut the allegations against her, negating bad faith on the part of the company.
Nancy appealed all the way to the Supreme Court the deletion of the award of moral and exemplary damages as well as the attorneys fees.
“Under the Labor Code, Labor Arbiters are authorized by law to award moral and exemplary damages:
Art. 217. Jurisdiction of Labor Arbiters and the Commission. – (a) Except as otherwise provided under this Code, the Labor Arbiters shall have original and exclusive jurisdiction to hear and decide within thirty (30) calendar days after the submission of the case by the parties for decision without extension, even in the absence of stenographic notes, the following cases involving all workers, whether agricultural or non-agricultural:
. . . .
4. Claims for actual, moral, exemplary and other forms of damages arising from the employer-employee relations[.]
The nature of moral damages is defined under our Civil Code. Article 2220 states that “[w]illful injury to property may be a legal ground for awarding moral damages if the court should find that, under the circumstances, such damages are justly due. The same rule applies to breaches of contract where the defendant acted fraudulently or in bad faith.” In Primero v. Intermediate Appellate Court, this court stated that damages, as defined in the Civil Code, is recoverable in labor cases. Thus, moral damages:
. . . cannot be justified solely upon the premise (otherwise sufficient for redress under the Labor Code) that the employer fired his employee without just cause or due process. Additional facts must be pleaded and proven to warrant the grant of moral damages under the Civil Code, these being, to repeat, that the act of dismissal was attended by bad faith or fraud, or was oppressive to labor, or done in a manner contrary to morals, good customs, or public policy; and, of course, that social humiliation, wounded feelings, grave anxiety, etc., resulted therefrom.
The employee is entitled to moral damages when the employer acted a) in bad faith or fraud; b) in a manner oppressive to labor; or c) in a manner contrary to morals, good customs, or public policy.
Bad faith “implies a conscious and intentional design to do a wrongful act for a dishonest purpose or moral obliquity.” Cathay Pacific Airways v. Spouses Vazquez[ established that bad faith must be proven through clear and convincing evidence. This is because “[b]ad faith and fraud . . . are serious accusations that can be so conveniently and casually invoked, and that is why they are never presumed. They amount to mere slogans or mudslinging unless convincingly substantiated by whoever is alleging them.”Here, there was clear and convincing evidence of bad faith adduced in the lower tribunals.
PAL’s actions in implicating Montinola and penalizing her for no clear reason show bad faith. PAL’s denial of her request to clarify the charges against her shows its intent to do a wrongful act for moral obliquity. If it were acting in good faith, it would have gathered more evidence from its contact in Honolulu or from other employees before it started pointing fingers. PAL should not have haphazardly implicated Montinola and denied her livelihood even for a moment.
PAL apparently granted Montinola procedural due process by giving her a notice of administrative charge and conducting a hearing. However, this was more apparent than real. The notice of administrative charge did not specify the acts committed by Montinola and how these acts violated PAL’s Code of Discipline. The notice did not state which among the items confiscated by the US customs officials were originally found in Montinola’s possession. Worse, the panel of PAL officers led by Atty. Pascual did not entertain any query to clarify the charges against her.
There is denial of an opportunity to be heard if the employee is not clearly apprised of the acts she committed that constituted the cause for disciplinary action. The Omnibus Rules Implementing the Labor Code requires that “a written notice [be] served on the employee specifying the ground or grounds for termination, and giving said employee reasonable opportunity within which to explain his side.” Reasonable opportunity has been described as “every kind of assistance that management must accord to the employees to enable them to prepare adequately for their defense.”
When the alleged participation of the employee in the illicit act which serves as a basis for the disciplinary action is not clear from the notice, the opportunity to be heard will not be reasonable. The notice fails to meet reasonable standards. It does not have enough information to enable the employee to adequately prepare a defense.”
x x x
“Montinola was found by PAL to be guilty of all the charges against her. According to PAL, “[t]hese offenses call for the imposition of the penalty of Termination, however, we are imposing upon you the reduced penalty of One (01) year Suspension.” It is not clear how she could violate all the prestations in the long list of rules she allegedly violated. There is also no clear explanation why termination would be the proper penalty to impose. That the penalty was downgraded, without legal explanation, to suspension appears as a further badge of intimidation and bad faith on the part of the employer.
Nothing in PAL’s action supports the finding that Montinola committed specific acts constituting violations of PAL’s Code of Discipline.
This act of PAL is contrary to morals, good customs, and public policy. PAL was willing to deprive Montinola of the wages she would have earned during her year of suspension even if there was no substantial evidence that she was involved in the pilferage.
Moral damages are, thus, appropriate. In Almira v. B.F. Goodrich Philippines, this court noted that unemployment “brings untold hardships and sorrows on those dependent on the wage-earner.” This is also true for the case of suspension. Suspension is temporary unemployment. During the year of her suspension, Montinola and her family had to survive without her usual salary. The deprivation of economic compensation caused mental anguish, fright, serious anxiety, besmirched reputation, and wounded feelings. All these are grounds for an award of moral damages under the Civil Code.”
x x x
“Montinola is also entitled to exemplary damages.
Under Article 2229 of the Civil Code, “[e]xemplary or corrective damages are imposed, by way of example or correction for the public good, in addition to the moral, temperate, liquidated or compensatory damages.” As this court has stated in the past: “Exemplary damages are designed by our civil law to permit the courts to reshape behaviour that is socially deleterious in its consequence by creating negative incentives or deterrents against such behaviour.”
If the case involves a contract, Article 2332 of the Civil Code provides that “the court may award exemplary damages if the defendant acted in a wanton, fraudulent, reckless, oppressive or malevolent manner.” Thus, in Garcia v. NLRC, this court ruled that in labor cases, the court may award exemplary damages “if the dismissal was effected in a wanton, oppressive or malevolent manner.”
It is socially deleterious for PAL to suspend Montinola without just cause in the manner suffered by her. Hence, exemplary damages are necessary to deter future employers from committing the same acts.”
x x x
“Montinola is also entitled to attorney’s fees.
Article 2208 of the Civil Code enumerates the instances when attorney’s fees can be awarded:
ART. 2208. In the absence of stipulation, attorney’s fees and expenses of litigation, other than judicial costs, cannot be recovered, except:
(1) When exemplary damages are awarded;
(2) When the defendant’s act or omission has compelled the plaintiff to litigate with third persons or to incur expenses to protect his interest;
(3) In criminal cases of malicious prosecution against the plaintiff;
(4) In case of a clearly unfounded civil action or proceeding against the plaintiff;
(5) Where the defendant acted in gross and evident bad faith in refusing to satisfy the plaintiff’s plainly valid, just and demandable claim;
(6) In actions for legal support;
(7) In actions for the recovery of wages of household helpers, laborers and skilled workers;
(8) In actions for indemnity under workmen’s compensation and employer’s liability laws;
(9) In a separate civil action to recover civil liability arising from a crime;
(10) When at least double judicial costs are awarded;
(11) In any other case where the court deems it just and equitable that attorney’s fees and expenses of litigation should be recovered.
In all cases, the attorney’s fees and expenses of litigation must be reasonable. (Emphasis supplied)
This case qualifies for the first, second, and seventh reasons why attorney’s fees are awarded under the Civil Code.
First, considering that we have awarded exemplary damages in this case, attorney’s fees can likewise be awarded.
Second, PAL’s acts and omissions compelled Montinola to incur expenses to protect her rights with the National Labor Relations Commission and the judicial system. She went through four tribunals, and she was assisted by counsel. These expenses would have been unnecessary if PAL had sufficient basis for its decision to discipline Montinola.
Finally, the action included recovery for wages. To bring justice to the illegal suspension of Montinola, she asked for backwages for her year of suspension.”
p style=”text-align: left; padding-left: 30px;”>SECOND DIVISION, G.R. No. 198656, September 08, 2014, NANCY S. MONTINOLA, PETITIONER, VS. PHILIPPINE AIRLINES, RESPONDENT.