Peflor v. Outdoor Clothing (G.R. No. 177114; January 21, 2010)

CASE DIGEST: MANOLO A. PEÑAFLOR, Petitioner, vs. OUTDOOR CLOTHING MANUFACTURING CORPORATION, NATHANIEL T. SYFU, President, MEDYLENE M. DEMOGENA, Finance Manager, and PAUL LEE, Chairman, Respondents. (G.R. No. 177114; January 21, 2010)

Peflor was hired on September 2, 1999 as probationary Human Resource Department (HRD) Manager of respondent Outdoor Clothing Manufacturing Corporation. Peflor claimed that his relationship with Outdoor Clothing went well during the first few months of his employment. His woes began when the company's Vice President for Operations, Edgar Lee (Lee), left the company after a big fight between Lee and Chief Corporate Officer Nathaniel Syfu (Syfu). Because of his close association with Lee, Peflor claimed that he was among those who bore Syfus ire.

When Outdoor Clothing began undertaking its alleged downsizing program due to negative business returns, Peflor alleged that his department had been singled out. Peflors two staff members were dismissed on the pretext of retrenchment. He worked as a one-man department, carrying out all clerical, administrative and liaison work; he personally went to various government offices to process the company's papers.

When an Outdoor Clothing employee, Lynn Padilla (Padilla), suffered injuries in a bombing incident, the company required Peflor to attend to her hospitalization needs; he had to work outside office premises to undertake this task. As he was acting on the company's orders, Peflor considered himself to be on official business, but was surprised when the company deducted six days salary corresponding to the time he assisted Padilla.

After Peflor returned from his field work on March 13, 2000, his officemates informed him that while he was away, Syfu had appointed Nathaniel Buenaobra (Buenaobra) as the new HRD Manager. Peflor was surprised by the news; he also felt betrayed and discouraged. He tried to talk to Syfu to clarify the matter, but was unable to do so. Peflor claimed that under these circumstances, he had no option but to resign. He submitted a letter to Syfu declaring his irrevocable resignation from his employment with Outdoor Clothing effective at the close of office hours on March 15, 2000.

Peflor then filed a complaint for illegal dismissal with the labor arbiter, claiming that he had been constructively dismissed. He included in his complaint a prayer for reinstatement and payment of backwages, illegally deducted salaries, damages, attorneys fees, and other monetary claims.

The labor arbiter found that Peflor had been illegally dismissed. The NLRC apparently found Outdoor Clothings submitted memoranda sufficient to overturn the labor arbiters decision. It characterized Peflor's resignation as a response, not to the allegedly degrading and hostile treatment that he was subjected to by Syfu, but to Outdoor Clothings downward financial spiral. Peflor anchored his certiorari petition with the CA on the claim that the NLRC decision was tainted with grave abuse of discretion but the CA affirmed the NLRC decision. Upon denial of his motion for reconsideration, Penaflor filed the present petition for review.

ISSUE: Was petitioner constructively dismissed?

HELD: There can be no valid resignation where the act was made under compulsion or under circumstances approximating compulsion, such as when an employee's act of handing in his resignation was a reaction to circumstances leaving him no alternative but to resign

A critical fact necessary in resolving this issue is whether Peflor filed his letter of resignation before or after the appointment of Buenaobra as the new/concurrent HRD manager. If the resignation letter was submitted before Syfu's appointment of Buenaobra as new HRD manager, little support exists for Peflors allegation that he had been forced to resign due to the prevailing abusive and hostile working environment. On the other hand, if the resignation letter was submitted after the appointment of Buenaobra, then factual basis exists indicating that Peflor had been constructively dismissed as his resignation was a response to the unacceptable appointment of another person to a position he still occupied.The question of when Peflor submitted his resignation letter arises because this letter undisputably made was undated. Several reasons arising directly from these pieces of evidence lead us to conclude that Peflor did indeed submit his resignation letter on March, 15, 2000, i.e., on the same day that it was submitted.

First, we regard the Syfu memorandum of March 1, 2000 and the memorandum of Buenaobra of March 3, 2000 accepting the position of HRD Head to be highly suspect. In our view, these memoranda, while dated, do not constitute conclusive evidence of their dates of preparation and communication. Surprisingly, Peflor was never informed about these memoranda when they directly concerned him, particularly the turnover of responsibilities to Buenaobra if indeed Peflor had resigned on March 1, 2000 and a smooth turnover to Buenaobra was intended.

Second,we find it surprising that these pieces of evidence pointing to a March 1, 2000 resignation specifically, Syfus March 1, 2000 memorandum to Buenaobra about Penaflors resignation and Buenaobra's own acknowledgment and acceptance were only presented to the NLRC on appeal, not before the labor arbiter. The matter was not even mentioned in the company's position paper filed with the labor arbiter.

Third, the circumstances and other evidence surrounding Peflor's resignation support his claim that he was practically compelled to resign from the company.

Other than its bare claim that it was facing severe financial problems, Outdoor Clothing never presented any evidence to prove both the reasons for its alleged downsizing and the fact of such downsizing. No evidence was ever offered to rebut Peflor's claim that his staff members were dismissed to make his life as HRD Head difficult. To be sure, Peflor's participation in the termination of his staff members employment cannot be used against him, as the termination of employment was a management decision that Peflor, at his level, could not have effectively contested without putting his own job on the line.

The first is the settled rule that in employee termination disputes, the employer bears the burden of proving that the employees dismissal was for just and valid cause. That Peflor did indeed file a letter of resignation does not help the company's case as, other than the fact of resignation, the company must still prove that the employee voluntarily resigned. There can be no valid resignation where the act was made under compulsion or under circumstances approximating compulsion, such as when an employees act of handing in his resignation was a reaction to circumstances leaving him no alternative but to resign.In sum, the evidence does not support the existence of voluntariness in Peflors resignation. GRANTED.