Zaida R. Inocente Vs. St. Vincent Foundation for Children and Aging, Inc./Veronica Manguito
G.R. No. 202621. June 22, 2016
Petitioner Zaida was hired as Program Assistant and later Program Officer by the St. Vincent Foundation for Children and Aging. In 2001, she met Marlon Inocente, who was then assigned at the St. Vincent’s Bataan sub-project, but later transferred to the the Quezon City sub-project. They became good friends and were soon romantically involved with each other.
In 2006, the foundation adopted the Non-Fraternization Policy, which discouraged its employees from engaging in consensual romantic or sexual relations with any employee or volunteer of by Catholic Foundation For Children and Aging (CFCA) which promotes Christian values and uplifts the welfare of the children all over the world and also financially supports respondent St. Vincent. Despite this policy, Zaida and Marlon maintained their relationship even after Marlon resigned in 2008. Due to severe stomach pain, Zaida was rushed to the hospital, where it was found out that she had suffered a miscarriage. Zaida informed her employer of the situation and she was allowed to go on maternity leave.
The foundation required Zaida to explain why no administrative sanction should be meted against there for violation of the No-Fraternization Policy of the CFCA for her relationship with Marlon. Zaida explained that her relationship with Marlon started long before the foundation adopted the Non-Fraternization Policy; Marlon was no longer connected with Marlon since 2008; her relationship with Marlon was not immoral as there were no impediments to their marriage and they were both of legal age, a relationship which they kept confidential and private; they already planned to get married as soon as she recovers and their finances improved.
The company found her explanation unconvincing, and terminated her services effective. Zaida and Marlon wed each other on June 23, 2009. Zaida later filed a complaint for illegal dismissal against the company.
The LA dismissed Zaida’s complaint. The LA ruled that as a program officer, Zaida was under the obligation to observe this Policy and to inform her employer of her relationship. Her acts, therefore, could be characterized as an act of dishonesty constituting willful breach of trust and confidence justifying her dismissal.
The NLRC affirmed the LA decision. Her MR was denied. Thus, she file petition for certiorari with the CA.
The Court of Appeals denied Zaida’s petition for certiorari. It held that Zaida’s act of continuing her relationship with Marlon despite the implementation of the Non-Fraternization Policy, and without the benefit of marriage, went against the very policy of promoting Christian values that she was charged to uphold. Her subsequent marriage to Marlon did not help her situation as, under the circumstances, it appeared more of an afterthought intended to circumvent St. Vincent’s rules and code of conduct. It also ruled that her dismissal was not due to pregnancy therefore it did not violate Article 137(2) of the Labor Code. Rather, her pregnancy was merely the operative act that led to the discovery of her immoral conduct.
The SC granted the petition and found the dismissal illegal.
Immorality pertains to a course of conduct that offends the morals of the community. It connotes conduct or acts that are willful, flagrant or shameless, and that shows indifference to the moral standards of the upright and respectable members of the community. Conducts described as immoral or disgraceful refer to those acts that plainly contradict accepted standards of right and wrong behavior; they are prohibited because they are detrimental to the conditions on which depend the existence and progress of human society.
In other words, it is the totality of the circumstances surrounding the conduct per se as viewed in relation with the conduct generally accepted by society as respectable or moral, which determines whether the conduct is disgraceful or immoral. The determination of whether a particular conduct is immoral involves: (1) a consideration of the totality of the circumstances surrounding the conduct; and (2) an assessment of these circumstances in the light of the prevailing norms of conduct, i.e., what the society generally considers moral and respectable, and of the applicable laws.
In determining whether the acts complained of constitute “disgraceful and immoral” behavior under the Civil Service Laws, the distinction between public and secular morality on the one hand, and religious morality, on the other hand, should be kept in mind. This distinction as expressed – albeit not exclusively – in the law, on the one hand, and religious morality, on the other, is important because the jurisdiction of the Court extends only to public and secular morality.
In every dismissal situation, the employer bears the burden of proving the existence of just or authorized cause for the dismissal and the observance of due process requirements. This rule implements the security of tenure of the Constitution by imposing the burden of proof on employers in termination of employment situations. The failure on the part of the employer to discharge this burden renders the dismissal invalid.
Mere private sexual relations between two unmarried and consenting adults, even if the relations result in pregnancy or miscarriage out of wedlock and without more, are not enough to warrant liability for illicit behavior. The voluntary intimacy between two unmarried adults, where both are not under any impediment to marry, where no deceit exists, and which was done in complete privacy, is neither criminal nor so unprincipled as to warrant disciplinary action.
The CFCA employees who direct or coordinate the work of others are only “strongly discouraged from engaging in consensual romantic or sexual relationships with any employee or volunteer of CFCA.” It does not prohibit them, (either absolutely or with qualifications) from engaging in consensual romantic or sexual relationships. To discourage means “to deprive of courage or confidence: dishearten, deject; to attempt to dissuade from action: dampen or lessen the boldness or zeal of for some action.” To prohibit, on the other hand, means “to forbid by authority or command: enjoin, interdict; to prevent from doing or accomplishing something: effectively stop; to make impossible: disbar, hinder, preclude.
If the actor/employee does or performs the “discouraged” act, the employee may not be subjected to any punishment or disciplinary action as he or she does not violate any rule, policy, or law. In contrast, “to prohibit” will certainly subject the actor/employee to punishment or disciplinary action if the actor/employee does or performs the prohibited act as he or she violates a rule, policy or law.