SC rules Innodata’s legal document reviewers illegally dismissed
The Supreme Court (SC) has affirmed that 20 lawyers and law graduates hired by Innodata Knowledge Services, Inc., (IKSI) as project employees to review an American firm’s litigation documents were illegally dismissed in 2010.
In a recent 25-page decision, the SC 2nd Division denied the Mandaue City data processing firm’s appeal on the Court of Appeals’ (CA) August 2013 ruling in favor of the employees.
Each laid-off employee were entitled to back wages until the finality of the decision, separation pay equivalent to 1-month salary for every year of service, and moral and exemplary damages totaling P100,000, as well as attorney’s fees and 12% legal interest.
The employees, who were hired under 5-year project employment contracts, were first made to go on forced leave in January 2010 and finally let go in May 2010 due to the unavailability of new work.
But, the SC found the workers’ hiring on a project employment basis to be irregular and meant to avoid having to regularize them.
For one, the contracts did not specify when the project would end, with the date being left blank. Instead, all the workers were hired, regardless of when their employment began, for 5-year periods that would certainly not end at the same time.
“If respondents were truly project employees, as IKSI claims…, then the termination date would have been uniform for all of them,” read the decision penned by Associate Justice Diosdado Peralta.
And while the contracts stated they were hired to work on the legal review project for Applied Computer Technologies (ACT), the employees were made to work as “case classifiers” on another project called Bloomberg without entering into new project employment contracts.
For the SC, this meant the firm actually hired the workers to work not only on the ACT project, but also on similar projects.
“It is evident that IKSI’ s contracts of employment are suspect for being highly ambiguous,” the decision read. “In effect, it sought to alternatively avail of project employment and employment for a fixed term so as to preclude the regularization of respondents’ status.”
The SC also ruled Innodata failed to prove that legitimate reasons existed to justify the employees’ retrenchment, and did not give weight to its claim of decreased volume of work.
“Businesses, by their very nature, exist and thrive depending on the continued patronage of their clients… Being inherent in any enterprise, employers should not be allowed to take advantage of this entrepreneurial risk and use it in a scheme to circumvent labor laws,” the decision pointed out.
The SC also noted that Innodata continued to hire new employees after placing the 20 legal document reviewers on floating status.
The former employees are Socorro D’Marie Inting, Ismael Garaygay, Edson Solis, Michael Rebato, James Horace Balonda, Stephen Olingay, Dennis Rizon, Juneth Rentuma, Hernan Ed Noel de Leon Jr., Jess Vincent dela Pefia, Ronan Alamillo, Wendell Quiban, Aldrin Torrentira, Michael Ray Molde, Fritz Sembrino, Dax Matthew Quijano, Rodolfo Vasquez, Ma. Nazelle Miralles and Carl Hermes Carskit.