January 20, 2013

Vicious

January 20, 2013
Me no hear no see nada. Naps?
And the long-awaited moment turns into a complete non-event.

"Sounds like the hearing is going to be postponed", says the labor law enforcement officer who dealt with my case back when we still thought a government-sealed letter could resolve everything.

Time stops. I manage to gulp then squeak out a pathetic little nervous why.

"One of the lay judges is off sick".

Still, the bell rings. Lawyers in robes and a handful of commoners dutifully pile into the courtroom, a tastefully decorated affair that is no bigger than a large North American living room even though it always looks huge on TV.

The bar is very low. I wonder whether it'll need adjusting up when they call me, or if I am expected to kneel and hang onto it for dear life.

It's odd that, feeling like I am on trial whereas I am the one who initiated legal proceedings against my ex-employer because of his very personal and unilateral interpretation of the law.

The medaled man who had hinted I should drop the case during the mediation hearing is presiding again. Earlier, in the hallway, we had acknowledged each other's presence with a courteous chin lift and a half-smile. 

My ex-employer, meanwhile, is nowhere to be seen. 

Instead, he has dispatched a diminutive lawyer about my age who filled my inbox with all matters of defamation three days before the hearing.

In the absence of any real legal ammunition besides an outdated circular, she is counter-suing me for libel, because in her world, taking an unscrupulous employer to court for the sole purposes of defending one's rights constitutes libel.

Which it might in a dictatorship.

However, if history is anything to go by, this country is the complete antithesis of one. 

The lawyer is also trying to claw back some overpaid salary (!) – this is how I learn that I apparently quit my job even though I have no recollection of ever doing so – and is demanding damages alleging that my actions (namely, seeking advice from the labor law enforcement agency, which is a government body, and subsequently going to court) have brought the establishment into disrepute. 

To illustrate this, she has gathered statements from former colleagues – the staffer who left paperwork lying around that showed she was earning more than me for the same job, plus two people also on a fixed term contract who probably cannot take the risk of being without work next summer – as well as my ex-employer's parents – who set up the business half a century ago and are no doubt inconvenienced by the fact that their son's mismanagement has led to a court case – and a consultant whose services my ex-employer pays for. 

In short, all trustworthy, reliable witnesses who attest under oath that I am the closest human form to a pile of rotting manure.

It stinks, but the upside is that I get to find out their passport photographs and middle names are no more flattering than mine.

In 'short short' though, this extraneous information is nothing but wool to be pulled over the judges' eyes because those statements are not even relevant to the case.

And this is not the full extent of the lawyer's subterfuge as she also submits schedules I had never seen before for those days I should allegedly have been at work but failed to turn up. 

If I didn't turn up, it's because I was expressly told to spend the rest of my contract at home – enjoying all the overtime and paid leave I had accumulated as enforced time off – and to never show my face around there again.

Of course I did think of turning up the next day as if nothing had happened, but the thought of being escorted off from the premises manu militari by the cops for trespassing didn't much appeal. 

So I grudgingly did as I was told while vehemently opposing my ex-employer's decision in writing, telling him I was available for work until the end of my contract and asking him to send me my schedule ASAP. Alas, he never picked up my certified letter from the Post Office or responded to the copy I sent a week later, both of which are now part of my file.

There we have it. Fabricated evidence, defamation, and a lawyer paid to do the dirty work. Legal representation is not required at this stage so it is not unreasonable to think that, in a kinder world, my ex-employer could have chosen to voice his objections in person.

As for dragging the reputation of his establishment through the mud, his ugly tactics sadly speak for themselves.

For the record, I hardly know anyone here, loathe small talk, and am not presumptuous enough to think that anyone other than my nearest and dearest – all thousand of miles away and with no intention of ever visiting the island – gives a proverbial monkey's about the outcome of this very sorry affair.

It may quite telling that my evidence has remained the same since I filed the lawsuit at the beginning of October and that, despite my unshakable editorial conviction that this is a public-interest story, I have elected not to go to the press out of respect for my ex-employer's parents and the establishment that, to them, represents a lifetime's work.

"The hearing is postponed to next week, Jan 24, same time", the court registrar announces.

And this is how, for another 7 days, my character gets to remain intact.

6 comments:

  1. AAARRRRG. Exasperating. Though I imagine you want an outcome more than I want to read about one! xx

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  2. Arg! Exacerbating! Even for us who just want to read about the outcome. xxx

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  3. Arg! Exacerbating! Even for us who just want to read about the outcome. xxx

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  4. Indeed.



    Believe me, no one wants this to be over more than me, so much so that I asked the court registrar what would happen if I dropped the case now.



    Unfortunately, because my ex-employer is counter-suing me, dropping the case is something that would have to be mutually agreed.



    So I hope this Thursday brings the whole thing to a close although the verdict is unlikely to be returned on the spot as it typically takes one to two weeks for the lay judges to judge.



    Fighting for what you believe in can be a tortuous and torturous process however I still have faith in the laws of this country and the democratic principles it abides by.

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  5. What a pile. Unfortunately, even today, rule of law is often overruled by those with the means to do so. And so, still, the strong do what they will, and the weak suffer what they must. I admire that you picked the fight, and I remain hopeful that justice will in this case prevail. Keep your head up no matter the process or the outcome, good luck, and Godspeed!

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  6. Hi Jeff, thanks for your kind words!

    Little disclaimer: although I am in North America, I am not in the US so things work a little differently. The country I am in is very proud of its laws and track record on social justice. That's why institutions like the Labor Code enforcement agency exist (they do other things do, like workplace safety assessments etc...).

    The officer who advised me throughout this process – since mid-September – and has helped me put my court case together after his heavy-handed intervention failed (letter exposing the violations and the legal price tag thereof, which is hefty and can even involve jail) is in no doubt that there have been violations of the national Labor Code and that I therefore have grounds for a court case.

    Likewise, his services now have grounds to sue my ex-employer for breaking the law, and that happens in a real court, not one with lay judges like mine.

    The two are separate affairs and confidentiality dictates that the officer cannot tell me anything about his investigation or the outcome of it until it is made public.

    Lastly, I picked the fight because this is a matter of public interest and something much bigger than little old me. I'm hoping this case will not only curb my ex-employer's practices and also scare those who don't already into abiding by the law, thus protecting the weakest (unqualified labor on precarious,
    short-term contracts – I don't have stats but that's a lot of people here) who dare not speak up for fear of never getting work again.

    It's not about the money anymore. Of course I needed it else I would never have worked those crazy hours, and I still need it but... I have survived without it. This case is about all citizens being equal in the
    eyes of the law, regardless of their origins, last name, place of birth, accent, dietary requirements (yes, those!) and qualifications.

    Fingers crossed and all that...

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