Immorality as a ground for dismissal requires determination of conduct using the two-step process.
Cheryll Santos Leus vs. St. Scholastica’s College Westgrove and/or Sr. Edna Quiambao, OSB
G.R. No. 187226, January 28, 2015
Cheryll Santos Leus (Leus) was hired by St. Scholastica’s College Westgrove (SSCW), a Catholic educational institution, as a non-teaching personnel, engaged in pre-marital sexual relations, got pregnant out of wedlock, married the father of her child, and was dismissed by SSCW, in that order.
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Sometime in 2003, Leus and her boyfriend conceived a child out of wedlock. When SSCW learned of Leus’s pregnancy, Sr. Edna Quiambao (Sr. Quiambao), SSCW’s Directress, advised her to file a resignation letter effective June 1, 2003. In response, Leus informed Sr. Quiambao that she would not resign from her employment just because she got pregnant without the benefit of marriage.
Sr. Quiambao formally directed Leus to explain in writing why she should not be dismissed for engaging in pre-marital sexual relations and getting pregnant as a result thereof, which amounts to serious misconduct and conduct unbecoming of an employee of a Catholic school.
In a letter, Leus explained that her pregnancy out of wedlock does not amount to serious misconduct or conduct unbecoming of an employee. She averred that she is unaware of any school policy stating that being pregnant out of wedlock is considered as a serious misconduct and, thus, a ground for dismissal. Further, Leus requested a copy of SSCW’s policy and guidelines so that she may better respond to the charge against her.
Sr. Quiambao informed Leus that, pending the promulgation of a “Support Staff Handbook,” SSCW follows the 1992 Manual of Regulations for Private Schools (1992 MRPS) on the causes for termination of employments; that Section 94(e) of the 1992 MRPS cites “disgraceful or immoral conduct” as a ground for dismissal in addition to the just causes for termination of employment provided under Article 282 of the Labor Code.
SCW, through counsel, maintained that pre-marital sexual relations, even if between two consenting adults without legal impediment to marry, is considered a disgraceful and immoral conduct or a serious misconduct, which are grounds for the termination of employment under the 1992 MRPS and the Labor Code. That SSCW, as a Catholic institution of learning, has the right to uphold the teaching of the Catholic Church and expect its employees to abide by the same. They further asserted that Leus’s indiscretion is further aggravated by the fact that she is the Assistant to the Director of the Lay Apostolate and Community Outreach Directorate, a position of responsibility that the students look up to as role model.
Consequently, Sr. Quiambao informed Leus that her employment with SSCW is terminated on the ground of serious misconduct. She stressed that pre-marital sexual relations between two consenting adults with no impediment to marry, even if they subsequently married, amounts to immoral conduct. She further pointed out that SSCW finds unacceptable the scandal brought about by Leus’s pregnancy out of wedlock as it ran counter to the moral principles that SSCW stands for and teaches its students.
Thereupon, Leus filed a complaint for illegal dismissal with the Regional Arbitration Branch of the NLRC in Quezon City against SSCW and Sr. Quiambao (SSCW, et al.).
The Labor Arbiter (LA) rendered a Decision, which dismissed the complaint filed by Leus. The LA found that there was a valid ground for Leus’ dismissal; that her pregnancy out of wedlock is considered as a “disgraceful and immoral conduct.” The LA pointed out that, as an employee of a Catholic educational institution, Leus is expected to live up to the Catholic values taught by SSCW to its students.
Leus appealed to the NLRC, insisting that there was no valid ground for the termination of her employment.
The NLRC issued a Resolution, which affirmed the LA Decision. The NLRC pointed out that the termination of the employment of the personnel of private schools is governed by the 1992 MRPS; that Section 94(e) thereof cites “disgraceful or immoral conduct” as a just cause for dismissal, in addition to the grounds for termination of employment provided for under Article 282 of the Labor Code.
The NLRC held that Leus’s pregnancy out of wedlock is a “disgraceful or immoral conduct” within the contemplation of Section 94(e) of the 1992 MRPS and, thus, SSCW had a valid reason to terminate her employment.
Leus sought reconsideration of the Resolution but it was denied by the NLRC.
Unperturbed, Leus filed a petition for certiorari with the CA.
The CA rendered the herein assailed Decision, which denied the petition for certiorari filed by Leus. The CA held that it is the provisions of the 1992 MRPS and not the Labor Code which governs the termination of employment of teaching and non-teaching personnel of private schools.
The CA further held that Leus’s dismissal was a valid exercise of SSCW’s management prerogative to discipline and impose penalties on erring employees pursuant to its policies, rules and regulations. The CA upheld the NLRC’s conclusion that Leus’ pregnancy out of wedlock is considered as a “disgraceful and immoral conduct” and, thus, a ground for dismissal under Section 94(e) of the 1992 MRPS. The CA likewise opined that Leus’ pregnancy out of wedlock is scandalous per se given the work environment and social milieu.
Whether pre-marital sexual relations or pregnancy out-of-wedlock of employee of catholic educational institution constitutes immorality and is ground for her dismissal
Whether the 1992 MRPS issued by the Secretary of Education as the revised implementing rules and regulations of Batas Pambansa Bilang 232 (BP 232) or the Education Act of 1982 widened the scope and coverage of the law as it provides for grounds for dismissal absent in BP 232
The argument against the validity of the 1992 MRPS, specifically Section 94 thereof, is raised by Leus for the first time in the instant petition for review. Nowhere in the proceedings before the LA, the NLRC or the CA did Leus assail the validity of the provisions of the 1992 MRPS.“ It is well established that issues raised for the first time on appeal and not raised in the proceedings in the lower court are barred by estoppel.
Points of law, theories, issues, and arguments not brought to the attention of the trial court ought not to be considered by a reviewing court, as these cannot be raised for the first time on appeal. To consider the alleged facts and arguments belatedly raised would amount to trampling on the basic principles of fair play, justice, and due process.
Section 70 of BP 232 vests the Secretary of Education with the authority to issue rules and regulations to implement the provisions of BP 232. Concomitantly, Section 5730 specifically empowers the Department of Education to promulgate rules and regulations necessary for the administration, supervision and regulation of the educational system in accordance with the declared policy of BP 232.
The qualifications of teaching and non-teaching personnel of private schools, as well as the causes for the termination of their employment, are an integral aspect of the educational system of private schools. Indubitably, ensuring that the teaching and non-teaching personnel of private schools are not only qualified, but competent and efficient as well goes hand in hand with the declared objective of BP 232 – establishing and maintaining relevant quality education. It is thus within the authority of the Secretary of Education to issue a rule, which provides for the dismissal of teaching and non-teaching personnel of private schools based on their incompetence, inefficiency, or some other disqualification.
Moreover, Section 69 of BP 232 specifically authorizes the Secretary of Education to “prescribe and impose such administrative sanction as he may deem reasonable and appropriate in the implementing rules and regulations” for the “[g]ross inefficiency of the teaching or non-teaching personnel” of private schools. Accordingly, contrary to Leus’ claim, the Court sees no reason to invalidate the provisions of the 1992 MRPS, specifically Section 94 thereof.
In Chua-Qua vs. Clave, the Court stressed that to constitute immorality, the circumstances of each particular case must be holistically considered and evaluated in light of the prevailing norms of conduct and applicable laws. Otherwise stated, it is not the totality of the circumstances surrounding the conduct per se that determines whether the same is disgraceful or immoral, but the conduct that is generally accepted by society as respectable or moral. If the conduct does not conform to what society generally views as respectable or moral, then the conduct is considered as disgraceful or immoral. Tersely put, substantial evidence must be presented, which would establish that a particular conduct, viewed in light of the prevailing norms of conduct, is considered disgraceful or immoral.
Thus, the determination of whether a conduct is disgraceful or immoral involves a two-step process: first, a consideration of the totality of the circumstances surrounding the conduct; and second, an assessment of the said circumstances vis-à-vis the prevailing norms of conduct, i.e., what the society generally considers moral and respectable.
That Leus was employed by a Catholic educational institution per se does not absolutely determine whether her pregnancy out of wedlock is disgraceful or immoral. There is still a necessity to determine whether Leus’s pregnancy out of wedlock is considered disgraceful or immoral in accordance with the prevailing norms of conduct.
When the law speaks of immoral or, necessarily, disgraceful conduct, it pertains to public and secular morality; it refers to those conducts which are proscribed because they are detrimental to conditions upon which depend the existence and progress of human society.
In stark contrast to Santos vs. NLRC, the Court does not find any circumstance in this case which would lead the Court to conclude that Leus committed a disgraceful or immoral conduct. Leus and her boyfriend, at the time they conceived a child, had no legal impediment to marry. Indeed, even prior to her dismissal, Leus married her boyfriend, the father of her child.
As the Court held in Anonymous vs. Radam, there is no law which penalizes an unmarried mother by reason of her sexual conduct or proscribes the consensual sexual activity between two unmarried persons; that neither does such situation contravene any fundamental state policy enshrined in the Constitution.
Leus is employed in an educational institution where the teachings and doctrines of the Catholic Church, including that on pre-marital sexual relations, is strictly upheld and taught to the students. That her indiscretion, which resulted in her pregnancy out of wedlock, is anathema to the doctrines of the Catholic Church. However, viewed against the prevailing norms of conduct, Leus’ conduct cannot be considered as disgraceful or immoral; such conduct is not denounced by public and secular morality. It may be an unusual arrangement, but it certainly is not disgraceful or immoral within the contemplation of the law.
Pre-marital 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.
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SSCW, as employer, undeniably has the right to discipline its employees and, if need be, dismiss them if there is a valid cause to do so. However, there is no cause to dismiss Leus. Her conduct is not considered by law as disgraceful or immoral.
Further, the SSCW, et al. themselves have admitted that SSCW, at the time of the controversy, does not have any policy or rule against an employee who engages in pre-marital sexual relations and conceives a child as a result thereof
There being no valid basis in law or even in SSCW’s policy and rules, SSCW’s dismissal of Leus is despotic and arbitrary and, thus, not a valid exercise of management prerogative.
In sum, the Court found that Leus was illegally dismissed as there was no just cause for the termination of her employment. SSCW failed to adduce substantial evidence to establish that Leus’ conduct, i.e., engaging in pre-marital sexual relations and conceiving a child out of wedlock, assessed in light of the prevailing norms of conduct, is considered disgraceful or immoral.