Lagahit vs. Pacific Concord Container Lines

G.R. No. 177680, January 13, 2016


Petitioner Lagahit, an Account Executive/Marketing Assistant received a text message stating:

TODAY U R OFFICIALY NT CONNECTED WITH US.    Sender: MONETTE   +639173215330      
Sent: 8-Nov-2002  13:14:01

Another text was also sent to her husband asking her to return the brand new Toyota Altis. On the same day, the petitioner learned from clients and friends that the respondents had disseminated notices, flyers and memos informing all clients of Pacific Concord that she was no longer connected with the company as of November 8, 2002. Petitioner  filed  her  complaint  for constructive dismissal in the Regional Arbitration Branch of the National Labor Relations Commission (NLRC).

In their position paper, the respondents denied having terminated the petitioner  despite  the  fact  that  there  were  valid  grounds  to  do  so.  They insisted that the petitioner had betrayed the trust and confidence reposed in her when she (a) used the company-issued vehicle for her own personal interest; (b) failed to achieve her sales quota, and to enhance and develop the Sales  Department;  (c)  enticed  her  marketing  assistant,  Jo  Ann  Otrera,  to resign  and  join  her  in  transferring  to  another  forwarding  company;  (d) applied  for  other  employment  during  office  hours  and  using  company resources; (e) solicited and offered the services of Seajet International, Inc. during  her  employment  with  Pacific  Concord;  (f)  received  a  personal commission  from  Wesport  Line,  Inc.  for  container  shipments;  and (g) illegally   manipulated   and   diverted   several   containers   to   Seajet International.

The respondents claimed that Pacific Concord even issued at one time a memorandum to the petitioner to cite her insubordination in refusing to participate in the company’s teambuilding activity; that in the two meetings she was afforded the  chance to explain her side on the reports that she was looking for other employment, but she dismissed the reports as mere speculations and assured them of her loyalty; that although valid grounds to terminate the petitioner already existed, they did not dismiss her; and that she voluntarily resigned on  November  13,  2002  after  probably  sensing  that  the  management had gotten wind of her anomalous transactions. They submitted affidavits to support their allegations.

LA Ruling:

The LA rendered a decision declaring that the respondents were not able to prove that the petitioner had committed acts constituting betrayal of trust; that they had not informed her prior to her dismissal of the offenses she had supposedly committed; and that owing to the illegality of the dismissal, they were liable for backwages and separation pay.

NLRC Ruling:

On appeal, the NLRC affirmed the ruling of the Labor Arbiter with modification. The NLRC found that the respondents did not observe due process in terminating the services of the petitioner; and rejected their claim that she had resigned on November 13, 2002 (Date of Lagahit letter where she wrote, among others, that she “accepted her fate.”). The  respondents  filed  their  motion  for  reconsideration,  but  the NLRC denied the same.

CA Ruling:

The CA  promulgated  its  decision  granting  the respondents’ petition for certiorari, and annulling the decision of the NLRC. It pronounced  that  there  were  sufficient  justifications  to  terminate  the petitioner’s services for disloyalty and willful breach of trust.

The CA denied the petitioner’s motion for reconsideration. Hence, the appeal.


Whether or not there was valid resignation
Whether or not Lagahit was a managerial employee and validly dismissed for willful breach of trust

SC Ruling:

The SC found merit in the appeal.

The petitioner argues that the CA erroneously concluded that she had been dismissed  considering  that  the  respondents  had  initially  denied  her having dismissed her, and claimed instead that she had voluntarily resigned; that the Labor Arbiter and the NLRC had correctly concluded that she had not  resigned,  but  had  been  illegally  terminated  without  substantive  and procedural due process.

In cases of  unlawful  dismissal,  the  employer  bears  the  burden of proving that the termination was for a valid or authorized cause, but before the  employer  is  expected  to  discharge  its  burden  of  proving  that  the dismissal  was  legal,  the  employee  must  first  establish  by  substantial evidence  the  fact  of  her  dismissal  from  employment. In this case, the petitioner proved the overt acts committed by the respondents in abruptly terminating her employment through the text messages sent by Cuenca to the petitioner and her husband, as well as the notices distributed to the clients and published in the Sun Star or controvert  her  evidence  on  the  matter.  Thereby, she  showed  Pacific Concord’s resolve to terminate her employment effective November 8, 2002.

On the other hand, the respondents’ insistence that the petitioner had resigned  was  bereft  of  factual support.  As a rule, the  employer  who interposes the resignation of the employee as a defense should prove that the employee voluntarily resigned. A valid resignation is the voluntary act of an employee  who  finds  herself  in  a  situation  where  she  believes that personal reasons cannot be sacrificed in favor of the exigency of the service and  that  she  has  no  other  choice  but  to  disassociate  herself  from employment. The resignation must be unconditional and with  a  clear intention  to  relinquish  the  position.  Consequently, the circumstances surrounding the alleged resignation must be consistent with the employee’s intent  to  give  up  the  employment. In  this  connection,  the  acts  of  the employee  before  and  after  the  resignation  are  considered  to  determine whether or not she intended, in fact, to relinquish the employment.

To conclude that the petitioner resigned because of her letter of November 13, 2002 is absurd in light of the respondents having insisted that she had been terminated from her employment earlier on November 8, 2002.  In that regard,  every  resignation  presupposes  the  existence  of  the employer-employee relationship; hence, there can be no valid resignation after the fact of termination of the employment simply because the employee had no employer-employee relationship to relinquish.

Lagahit’s position as sales manager did not immediately make her a managerial employee. The actual work that she performed, not her job title, determined whether she was a managerial employee vested with trust and confidence.  Her  employment  as  sales  manager  was  directly  related with  the  sales  of  cargo  forwarding  services  of  Pacific  Concord,  and  had nothing  to  do  with  the  implementation  of  the  management’s  rules  and policies. As such, the position of sales manager came under the second class of employees vested with trust and confidence. Therein was the flaw in the CA’s  assailed  decision.  Although  the  mere  existence  of  the  basis  for believing that the managerial employee breached the trust reposed by the employer would normally suffice to justify a dismissal, we should desist from applying this norm against the petitioner who was not a managerial employee.

The affidavits did not show how she had betrayed her employer’s trust. Specifically, the affidavit of Russell B. Noel only stated that she and her husband Roy had met over lunch  with  Garcia  Imports  and  a  certain  Wilbur  of  Sea-Jet  International Forwarder in the first week of November 2002. To conclude that such lunch caused Pacific Concord to lose its trust in the petitioner would be arbitrary. Similarly, the affidavit of Mark Anthony G. Lim was inconclusive.



error: Content is protected !!