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DH, employer in dismissed shampoo theft case settle dispute

20 June 2019

By Vir B. Lumicao

Claimant got 

A Filipina domestic helper cleared of charges she had stolen a small shampoo set has agreed to settle her labor case against her former employer for $5,800, almost half her original claim.

The agreement came after a two-hour hearing at the Labour Tribunal today, Jun 20, during which Presiding Officer Jo Siu told Damiago and defendant Jennifer Wong they could both lose if the case dragged on.
Damiago was claiming from Wong a total of $11,504.37, broken down as follows: $734.37 for five days’ wages, $7,640 in damages for alleged loss of income, $1,700 for a one-way air ticket, $1,330 for visa extension costs and a $100 travel allowance. 

She had insisted on pursuing the case after the last hearing on Mar 29 during which Wong had refused to pay the claim for unpaid wages and return air ticket with a 20-kilo baggage allowance.
It was the  first time the two had faced each other at the Tribunal after Damiago was acquitted in Eastern Court on Feb 13 of a theft charge which arose from Wong’s claim that the maid had stolen a small travel set of toiletries, along with a pack of dried plums.

In her labor claim, Damiago had alleged constructive dismissal, saying Wong’s husband had abused her, physically and verbally, in their Repulse Bay flat.

But Wong countered that she fired the helper on Oct 15 last year because of her “dishonest acts.”
After examining the helper’s claims, Siu said Damiago should have stated “wrongful dismissal” instead of “constructive dismissal” because she was fired based on false accusations after she had given Wong a one-month notice of resignation.    

“In constructive dismissal, you leave right away because of abuse. You don’t have to give the employer one month’s notice,” Siu said.

Then, seeing that both sides were not ready to settle, Siu explained the rigors and risks of going to trial, starting from gathering evidence, calling witnesses, waiting for months to get a trial date, and the risk of costs.

Then, if the Tribunal’s ruling is appealed or a review is sought, a hearing in the High Court could take months to schedule. Getting a lawyer could also entail costs of about $50,000 each hearing, she said.

In the case of Damiago, Siu said she could apply for Legal Aid, but she could still face a long wait as a court case could go on for years if both parties stood their ground.
Also, if Damiago loses, she could be ordered to pay costs.

For Wong, money may not be a problem, but her family’s reputation could be ruined, and dragging her children to the trial as witnesses may also be traumatic for them.

“Why not just settle to avoid all the troubles?” Siu asked the parties. Then she gave them 10 minutes to try to reach a settlement.

When Wong and Damiago returned, there was still no agreement. The employer offered to settle for $4,000 plus $1,500 for the air ticket, while Damiago insisted on $4,500 plus the ticket.

Siu suggested raising the total amount to $5,750, then fixed it at $5,800. The two agreed.

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