Capin-Cadiz vs. Brent Hospital and Colleges, Inc.
G.R. 187417, February 24, 2016
Cadiz was the Human Resource Officer of respondent Brent Hospital and Colleges, Inc. (Brent) at the time of her indefinite suspension from employment in 2006. The cause of suspension was Cadiz’s Unprofessionalism and Unethical Behavior Resulting to Unwed Pregnancy. It appears that Cadiz became pregnant out of wedlock, and Brent imposed the suspension until such time that she marries her boyfriend in accordance with law. Cadiz then filed with the Labor Arbiter (LA) a complaint for Unfair Labor Practice, Constructive Dismissal, Non-Payment of Wages and Damages with prayer for Reinstatement
The LA found that Cadiz’s indefinite suspension amounted to a constructive dismissal; nevertheless, the LA ruled that Cadiz was not illegally dismissed as there was just cause for her dismissal, that is, she engaged in premarital sexual relations with her boyfriend resulting in a pregnancy out of wedlock. The LA further stated that her “immoral conduct x x x [was] magnified as serious misconduct not only by her getting pregnant as a result thereof before and without marriage, but more than that, also by the fact that Brent is an institution of the Episcopal Church in the Philippines operating both a hospital and college where [Cadiz] was employed.” The LA also ruled that she was not entitled to reinstatement “at least until she marries her boyfriend,” to backwages and vacation/sick leave pay. Brent, however, manifested that it was willing to pay her 13th month pay.
Cadiz appealed to the National Labor Relations Commission (NLRC), which affirmed the LA decision. Her motion for reconsideration having been denied. Cadiz elevated her case to the CA on petition for certiorari under Rule 65.
The CA, however, dismissed her petition outright due to technical defects in the petition: (1) incomplete statement of material dates; (2) failure to attach registry receipts; and (3) failure to indicate the place of issue of counsel’s PTR and IBP official receipts. Cadiz sought reconsideration of the assailed CA Resolution dated July 22, 2008 but it was denied in the assailed Resolution dated February 24, 2009. The CA further ruled that “a perusal of the petition will reveal that public respondent NLRC committed no grave abuse of discretion amounting to lack or excess of jurisdiction x x x holding [Cadiz’s] dismissal from employment valid. Hence, the petition.
The SC found merit in the petition.
Admittedly, one of the grounds for disciplinary action under Brent’s policies is immorality, which is punishable by dismissal at first offense. Its Employee’s Manual of Policies, meanwhile, enumerates “[a]cts of immorality such as scandalous behaviour, acts of lasciviousness against any person (patient, visitors, co-workers) within hospital premises”35 as a ground for discipline and discharge. Brent also relied on Section 94 of the Manual of Regulations for Private Schools (MRPS), which lists “disgraceful or immoral conduct” as a cause for terminating employment.
To resolve, the SC made reference to the case of Cheryll Santos Leus v. St. Scholastica’s College Westgrove. Brent’s Policy Manual and Employee’s Manual of Policies do not define what constitutes immorality; it simply stated immorality as a ground for disciplinary action. Instead, Brent erroneously relied on the standard dictionary definition of fornication as a form of illicit relation and proceeded to conclude that Cadiz’s acts fell under such classification, thus constituting immorality. Jurisprudence has already set the standard of morality with which an act should be gauged – it is public and secular, not religious.
Whether a conduct is considered disgraceful or immoral should be made in accordance with the prevailing norms of conduct, which, as stated in Leus, refer to those conducts which are proscribed because they are detrimental to conditions upon which depend the existence and progress of human society. The fact that a particular act does not conform to the traditional moral views of a certain sectarian institution is not sufficient reason to qualify such act as immoral unless it, likewise, does not conform to public and secular standards. More importantly, there must be substantial evidence to establish that premarital sexual relations and pregnancy out of wedlock is considered disgraceful or immoral.
Brent, likewise, cannot resort to the MRPS because the Court already stressed in Leus that “premarital sexual relations between two consenting adults who have no impediment to marry each other, and, consequently, conceiving a child out of wedlock, gauged from a purely public and secular view of morality, does not amount to a disgraceful or immoral conduct under Section 94(e) of the 1992 MRPS.
In this case, Brent imposed on Cadiz the condition that she subsequently contract marriage with her then boyfriend for her to be reinstated. According to Brent, this is “in consonance with the policy against encouraging illicit or common-law relations that would subvert the sacrament of marriage. With particular regard to women, Republic Act No. 9710 or the Magna Carta of Women protects women against discrimination in all matters relating to marriage and family relations, including the right to choose freely a spouse and to enter into marriage only with their free and full consent. Weighed against these safeguards, it becomes apparent that Brent’s condition is coercive, oppressive and discriminatory. There is no rhyme or reason for it. It forces Cadiz to marry for economic reasons and deprives her of the freedom to choose her status, which is a privilege that inheres in her as an intangible and inalienable right.
While a marriage or no-marriage qualification may be justified as a “bona fide occupational qualification,” Brent must prove two factors necessitating its imposition, viz: (1) that the employment qualification is reasonably related to the essential operation of the job involved; and (2) that there is a factual basis for believing that all or substantially all persons meeting the qualification would be unable to properly perform the duties of the job. Brent has not shown the presence of neither of these factors.