Lagos –His Lordship, Hon. Justice Nelson Ogbuanya of the National Industrial Court of Nigeria, sitting in Lagos has validated Mrs. Ekeoma Ajah Notice of Retirement dated 22nd December 2016, ordered Fidelity Bank Plc to issue her 15 years long service certificate and payment of N27,805,847.40 (twenty-seven million, eight hundred and five thousand, eight hundred and forty-seven naira and forty kobo) Retirement Benefit within one month.

The court held that Applying the principle of arithmetical approximation, the Claimant who has served over 14 years and some fractions of months to attain 15 years from Jan.21 2002 to 23rd December 2016 when the new policy took effect, is hereby deemed to have attained 15 years.

By an Amended Statement of Facts, the Claimant sought among others for: A Declaration that the Defendant’s failure to make any payment with respect to the Claimant’s retirement benefits and February 2017 earned salary is a breach of the Claimant’s contract of employment and all known labour laws and best practices.

Likewise, An Order directing the Defendant to pay to the Claimant the sum of N29,785,492.14 (Twenty-Nine Million, Seven Hundred and Eighty-Five Thousand, Four Hundred and Ninety-Two Naira, Fourteen Kobo), being the aggregated sum of the entitlement (inclusive of retirement benefits and gratuity) due to the Claimant.

The Claimant was first employed by FSB International Bank on January 21, 2002, as Executive Trainee and was absorbed by the Defendant after the merger. She rose to the position of an Assistant. That when she had served for over 14 years and 9 months in December 2016, she decided to retire voluntarily in order to access the terminal benefit set out in the Defendant’s Retirement Policy, which would enable her to obtain the retirement benefit available for those who attained an unbroken long service of 15 years and who are below 55 years of age.

The claimant contended that upon serving out her notice period in the month of February 2017, she completed all exit protocols and was only awaiting the End of Service (EOS) Statement which would advise her terminal entitlements.

That after the Claimant had proceeded on her approved Annual Leave, the Defendant circulated an e-mail cancelling the said policy of payment of Retirement Benefit, and made it to take effect on 15th December 2016.

That the Defendant was adamant to release her retirement benefit, prompting her instituting the suit, that while the suit has commenced, and about 10months after the Claimant retired from the services, the Defendant paid her into her salary account the sum of N1,379,644.73 and the sum of N600,000.00, being the gratuityless commercial loans and repayments, and 15 years long service bonus, respectively, due to the Claimant.

Claimant further submitted that the balance of N27, 805, 847.40 being her cash retirement benefits as Assistant Manager has remained unpaid.

The defendant denied any wrongdoing for cancelling the voluntary retirement policy, insisting that it was the prerogative of the Defendant as an employer to vary its policy without recourse to the employee and further testified that the payments made to the Claimant vide her Account represent her current entitlement under the new policy.

Defendant submitted that since the Claimant did not reach the required years in service (15 years of service as at December 15 2016), and not qualified to benefit from the preserved scheme available to only those who met the condition precedent of the policy which cancellation had come into full effect, the Claimant’s suit should be dismissed as lacking merit.

In reply, claimant counsel Contended that the Defendant’s payments to the Claimant amount to an admission of the Claimant’s entitlement to retirement benefits for attaining 15 years in service, urged the court to discountenance contrary submissions by the Defendant’s counsel.

After careful evaluation of all the processes filed, and the submissions of the learned Counsel from both sides, the Court presided by Hon. Justice Nelson Ogbuanya held that Claimant’s Notice of Retirement remains valid as issued before the coming into effect of the new policy.

“Applying the principle of arithmetical approximation, the Claimant who has served over 14 years and some fractions of months to attain 15 years from Jan.21 2002 to 23rd December 2016 when the new policy took effect, is hereby deemed to have attained 15 years. I so hold.

“Again, the Defendant has alluded to this approximation when it paid into the Claimant’s account the sum of N600, 000. By PPPG which in Clause 7.18 set out three categories of length of stay (years)- 10, 15, 20 and 25 years stipulates Long Service Award Schedule-5. AM-DM (15 years), which is the category the Claimant falls in to be entitled to the N600, 000 paid her by the Defendant. To that end, I not only agree with the learned Claimant’s counsel that such conduct amounts to admission on the part of the Defendant, but  I also hold the view that it evokes application of equitable estoppel by conduct.

“Flowing from the foregoing findings, I entertain no more doubt that the Defendant has recognized the Claimant as falling in the category of those who attained 15 years of long service as the time of coming into effect of the new policy on December 23rd, 2016. I so hold. Accordingly, the Claimant shall be so treated in the consideration of the reliefs sought.

The court declared that the Defendant’s failure to make any payment with respect to the Claimant’s retirement benefits and February 2017 earned salary as a breach of the Claimant’s contract of employment and all known labour laws and best practices.

In all, His Lordship ordered defendant to issue Claimant 15 years long service certificate and payment of the sum of  N27,805,847.40 (twenty-seven million, eight hundred and five thousand, eight hundred and forty-seven naira and forty kobo) being the Claimant’s  Retirement Benefit.

The court also awarded N500,000 cost in favour of the Claimant, the sum of N2, 000,000.00 (two million naira) against defendant as general damages for breach of employment contract and associated inconveniences the Claimant suffered, ordered refund of all interest charges on the Claimant’s loan from the date the loan was paid from the Claimant’s entitlements.

The court clearly ordered that Monetary payments and compliances contained in the Judgment shall be paid and complied with by the Defendant within one (1) month.

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