Divine World College of Laoag vs. Mina
G.R. No. 195155, April 13, 2016
Divine World College Laoag (DWCL) is a non-stock educational institution offering catholic education to the public. It is run by the Society of Divine Word (SVD), a congregation of Catholic priests that maintains several other member educational institutions throughout the country.
Mina was first employed in 1971 as a high school teacher, and later on a high school principal, at the Academy of St. Joseph (ASJ), a school run by the SVD. On June 1, 1979, he transferred to DWCL and was accorded a permanent status after a year of probationary status. He was subsequently transferred in 2002 to DWCL’s college department as an Associate Professor III. Thereafter, on June 1, 2003, Mina was assigned as the College Laboratory Custodian of the School of Nursing and was divested of his teaching load, effective June 1, 2003 until May 31, 2004, subject to automatic termination and without need for any further notification. He was the only one among several teachers transferred to the college department who was divested of teaching load.
In early June 2004, Mina was offered early retirement by the Officer-in-Charge of DWCL’s School of Nursing. He initially declined the offer. He later received a Memorandum from the Office of the Dean enumerating specific acts of gross or habitual negligence, insubordination, and reporting for work under the influence of alcohol. He answered the allegations against him; sensing, however, that it was pointless to continue employment with DWCL, he requested that his retirement date be adjusted to September 2004 to enable him to avail of the 25-year benefits. He also requested for the inclusion of his eight years of service in ASJ, to make his total years of service to 33 years pursuant to the portability clause of the retirement plan, which was denied by DWCL. Instead, he was paid ₱275,513.00 as retirement pay. It was made to appear that his services were terminated by reason of redundancy to avoid any tax implications. Mina was also made to sign a deed of waiver and quitclaim stating that he no longer has any claim against DWCL with respect to any matter arising from his employment in the school. On September 21, 2004, he filed a case for illegal dismissal and recovery of separation pay and other monetary claims. Pending resolution of his case, Mina passed away on June 18, 2005.
The Labor Arbiter (LA) rendered its Decision, ruling that the actuation of DWCL is not constitutive of constructive dismissal. The LA ratiocinated, however, that the computation of Mina’s retirement pay based on redundancy is illegal; hence, it was modified, and the number of years he worked for ASJ was added to the years he worked for DWCL thus making his creditable number of years of service to 33 years. According to the LA, his length of service in both institutions will be taken into consideration in determining his total years of continuous service since the DWEA Retirement Plan has a provision on portability, which allows a member to carry the earned credit for his number of years of service from his former participating employer to his new employer. Moreover, the LA held that there is no showing that Mina ceased to be a member of the plan when he left the ASJ as there was not a day that he was separated from any school that is the member of the plan. Both appealed to the NLRC.
The NLRC ruled that Mina was constructively dismissed when he was appointed as College Laboratory Custodian and divested of his teaching load without any justification. It also ruled that Mina was not deemed to have waived all his claims against DWCL as quitclaims cannot bar employees from demanding benefits to which they are legally entitled. The NLRC, however, disregarded Mina’s eight years of service in ASJ in the computation of his retirement pay because of his failure to show compliance with the portability provision.
DWCL’s motion for reconsideration was denied. Thus, it filed a petition for certiorari with the CA.
The CA denied the petition but modified the award. It sustained the NLRC’s ruling that Mina was indeed constructively dismissed from work. The CA also held that Mina is entitled to receive backwages to be computed from the time of hiring on June 1, 1979 until the time of his death on June 18, 2005, as he was constructively dismissed from work. The MR was denied. Hence, the petition.
The SC ruled that there was constructive dismissal. Mina’s transfer clearly amounted to a constructive dismissal. For almost 22 years, he was a high school teacher enjoying a permanent status in DWCL’s high school department. Not only that. He was also divested of his teaching load. His appointment even became contractual in nature and was subject to automatic termination after one year “without any further notification.” Aside from this, Mina was the only one among the high school teachers transferred to the college department who was divested of teaching load. More importantly, DWCL failed to show any reason for Mina’s transfer and that it was not unreasonable, inconvenient, or prejudicial to him.
Also, Mina’s appointment as laboratory custodian was a demotion. There is demotion when an employee occupying a highly technical position requiring the use of one’s mental faculty is transferred to another position, where the employee performed mere mechanical work – virtually a transfer from a position of dignity to a servile or menial job. The assessment whether Mina’s transfer amounted to a demotion must be done in relation to his previous position, that is, from an associate college professor, he was made a keeper and inventory-taker of laboratory materials. Clearly, Mina’s new duties as laboratory custodian were merely perfunctory and a far cry from his previous teaching job, which involved the use of his mental faculties. And while there was no proof adduced showing that his salaries and benefits were diminished, there was clearly a demotion in rank.
The SC held that the CA erred in computing the amount to be awarded as backwages from the time of Mina’s hiring on June 1, 1979 until the time of his death on June 18, 2005, apparently interchanging backwages and separation pay. The basis for the payment of backwages is different from that of the award of separation pay. “The basis for computing separation pay is usually the length of the employee’s past service, while that for backwages is the actual period when the employee was unlawfully prevented from working. Thus, the computation of Mina’s backwages should be from the time he was constructively dismissed on June 1, 2003.
The Court affirms the NLRC’s findings that the eight years of service rendered by Mina in ASJ shall not be included in the computation of his retirement benefits. No adequate proof is shown that he has complied with the portability clause of the DWEA Retirement Plan. The employee has the burden of proof to show compliance with the requirements set forth in retirement plans, being in the nature of privileges granted to employees. Failure to overcome the burden of proof would necessarily result in the employee’s disqualification to receive the benefits.