Case Digest: Philippine Plaza v. Episcope

G.R. No. 192826 : February 27, 2013

PHILIPPINE PLAZA HOLDINGS, INC., Petitioner, v. MA. FLORA M. EPISCOPE, Repondent.

PERLAS-BERNABE, J.:

FACTS:


Petitioner Philippine Plaza Holdings, Inc. (PPHI) is the owner and operator of the Westin Philippine Plaza Hotel (Hotel). Respondent Ma. Flora M. Episcope (Episcope) was employed by PPHI since July 24, 1984 until she was terminated on November 4, 2004 for dishonesty, willful disobedience and serious misconduct amounting to loss of trust and confidence.

In order to check the performance of the employees and the services in the different outlets of the Hotel, PPHI regularly employed the services of independent auditors and/or professional shoppers. For this purpose, Sycip, Gorres and Velayo auditors dined at the Hotels CafPlaza on August 28, 2004. After dining, the auditors were billed the total amount of P2,306.65, representing the cost of the food and drinks they had ordered under Check No. 565938. Based on the audit report submitted to PPHI, Episcope was one of those who attended to the auditors and was the one who handed the check and received the payment of P2,400.00. She thereafter returned Check No. 565938, which was stamp marked paid, together with the change.

Upon verification of the foregoing check receipt with the sales report of CafPlaza, it was discovered that the Hotel's copy of the receipt bore a discount of P906.456 on account of the use of a Starwood Privilege Discount Card registered in the name of Peter A. Pamintuan, while the receipt issued by Episcope to the auditors reflected the undiscounted amount of P2,306.65 considering that none of the auditors had such discount card. In view of the foregoing, the amount actually remitted to the Hotel was only P1,400.20 thus, leaving a shortage of P906.45.

On September 30, 2004, the Hotel issued a Show-Cause Memodirecting Episcope to explain in writing why no disciplinary action should be taken against her for the questionable and invaliddiscount application on the settlement check issued to the auditors on August 28, 2004.

In her handwritten letter, Episcope admitted that she was on duty on the date and time in question but alleged that she could no longer recall if the concerned guests presented a Starwood Privilege Discount Card.

Episcope was placed on preventive suspension without pay. During the administrative hearing on October 6, 2004, Episcope, who was therein assisted by the Union President and four union representatives from National Union of Workers in Hotel Restaurant and Allied Industries (NUWHRAIN)-Philippine Plaza Hotel Chapter, confirmed the fact that she was the one who presented the subject check and received the corresponding payment from the guests. She, however, denied stamping the said check as paid or that she gave any discount without a discount card.

Finding Episcope to have failed to sufficiently explain the questionable discount application on the settlement bill of the auditors, her employment was terminated for committing acts of dishonesty, which was classified as a Class D offense under the Hotel's Code of Discipline, as well as for willful disobedience, serious misconduct and loss of trust and confidence.

Aggrieved, Episcope filed a complaint for illegal dismissal with prayer for payment of damages and attorney's fees against PPHI before the NLRC which ruled in favor of PPHI.

On appeal, the NLRC affirmed the LA's decision in the May 30, 2007 Resolution. Episcope's motion for reconsideration was likewise denied in the November 14, 2007 Resolution. On certiorari, the CA gave due course to the petition and reversed the NLRC's Decision. Dissatisfied, PPHI moved for reconsideration which was, however, denied.

Hence, the instant petition.

ISSUE: Whether the CA erred and ruled contrary to law and jurisprudence when it acted as a trier of facts and ordered reinstatement of the respondent and payment of backwages.

HELD: The petition is impressed with merit.

REMEDIAL LAW


At the outset, it is settled that the jurisdiction of the Supreme Court in cases brought before it from the CA via Rule 45 of the Rules of Court is generally limited to reviewing errors of law. The Court is not the proper venue to consider a factual issue as it is not a trier of facts. The rule, however, is not ironclad and a departure therefrom may be warranted where the findings of fact of the CA are contrary to the findings and conclusions of the trial court or quasi-judicial agency, as in this case. There is therefore a need to review the records to determine which of them should be preferred as more conformable to evidentiary facts.

After a judicious review of the records, as well as the respective allegations and defenses of the parties, the Court is constrained to reverse the findings and conclusion of the CA.

LABOR LAW

Article 293 (formerly Article 279) of the Labor Code provides that the employer shall not terminate the services of an employee except only for a just or authorized cause. If an employer terminates the employment without a just or authorized cause, then the employee is considered to have been illegally dismissed and is thus, entitled to reinstatement or in certain instances, separation pay in lieu thereof, as well as the payment of backwages.

Among the just causes for termination is the employers loss of trust and confidence in its employee. Article 296 (c) (formerly Article 282 [c]) of the Labor Code provides that an employer may terminate the services of an employee for fraud or willful breach of the trust reposed in him. But in order for the said cause to be properly invoked, certain requirements must be complied with namely,(1) the employee concerned must be holding a position of trust and confidence and (2) there must be an act that would justify the loss of trust and confidence.

LABOR LAW

It is noteworthy to mention that there are two classes of positions of trust: on the one hand, there are managerial employees whose primary duty consists of the management of the establishment in which they are employed or of a department or a subdivision thereof, and to other officers or members of the managerial staff; on the other hand, there are fiduciary rank-and-file employees, such as cashiers, auditors, property custodians, or those who, in the normal exercise of their functions, regularly handle significant amounts of money or property. These employees, though rank-and-file, are routinely charged with the care and custody of the employer's money or property, and are thus classified as occupying positions of trust and confidence. Episcope belongs to this latter class and therefore, occupies a position of trust and confidence.

As may be readily gleaned from the records, Episcope was employed by PPHI as a service attendant in its CafPlaza. In this regard, she was tasked to attend to dining guests, handle their bills and receive their payments for transmittal to the cashier. It is also apparent that whenever discount cards are presented, she maintained the responsibility to take them to the cashier for the application of discounts. Being therefore involved in the handling of company funds, Episcope is undeniably considered an employee occupying a position of trust and confidence and as such, was expected to act with utmost honesty and fidelity.

Anent the second requisite, records likewise reveal that Episcope committed an act which justified her employers (PPHIs) loss of trust and confidence in her.

Primarily, it is apt to point out that proof beyond reasonable doubt is not required in dismissing an employee on the ground of loss of trust and confidence; it is sufficient that there lies some basis to believe that the employee concerned is responsible for the misconduct and that the nature of the employee's participation therein rendered him absolutely unworthy of trust and confidence demanded by his position.

From the foregoing incidents, it is clear that Episcope was remiss in her duty to carefully account for the money she received from the cafe's guests. It must be observed that though the receipts were prepared by the cashier, Episcope; as a service attendant, was the one who actually handled the money tendered to her by the hotel clients. In this regard, prudence dictates that Episcope should have at least known why there was a shortage in remittance. Yet when asked, Episcope could not offer any plausible explanation but merely shifted the blame to the cashier. Irrefragably, as an employee who was routinely charged with the care and custody of her employer's money, Episcope was expected to have been more circumspect in the performance of her duties as a service attendant. This she failed to observe in the case at bar which thus, justifies PPHI's loss of trust and confidence in her as well as her consequent dismissal.

Perforce, having substantially established the actual breach of duty committed by Episcope and the due observance of due process, no grave abuse of discretion can be imputed against the NLRC in sustaining the finding of the LA that her dismissal was proper under the circumstances.

GRANTED

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