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Montinola was employed as a flight attendant of PAL since 1996. On January 29, 2008, Montinola and other flight crew members were subjected to custom searches in Honolulu, Hawaii, USA, where items from the airline were recovered from the flight crew by customs officials. Because of this, the Honolulu customs official sent an email to PAL regarding the search and another email enumerating the list of items taken from the crew members. PAL conducted an investigation and Montinola was among those implicated. PAL’s Cabin Services Sub-Department required Montinola to comment on the incident. She gave a handwritten explanation three days after, stating that she did not take anything from the aircraft. She also committed to give her full cooperation should there be any further inquiries on the matter. She was furnished with emails from the Honolulu customs official followed by a notice of administrative charge.
During the clarificatory hearing, Montinola, through her counsel objected PAL’s failure to specify her participation in the alleged pilferage. Atty. Pascual, counsel of PAL, threatened Montinola that a request for clarification would result in a waiver of the clarificatory hearing. Despite her counsel’s objections, Montinola allowed the clarificatory hearings to proceed because she wanted to extend her full cooperation in the investigations.
During the hearing, Montinola admitted US customs personnel conducted a search of her person. At that time, she had in her possession only the following food items: cooked camote, 3 -in -1 coffee packs, and Cadbury hot chocolate. PAL, however, found Montinola guilty of 11 Violations of the company’s Code of Discipline and Government Regulation. She was meted with suspension for 1 year without pay.
The Labor Arbiter found her suspension illegal finding that PAL never presented evidence that showed Montinola as the one responsible for any of the illegally taken airline items. In addition to reinstatement with backwages, inclusive of allowances and benefits amounting to ₱378,630.00.29, the LA awarded moral damages in the amount of ₱100,000.00 and exemplary damages amounting to ₱100,000.00. Attorney’s fees were also awarded. The NLRC affirmed the decision of LA. The NLRC pointed out that the affidavit sent by the US custom official categorically admitted that she did not know which items were attributable to each of the seven crew members whom she identified and there were no individual inventories. The CA likewise affirmed the decision of NLRC however, it deleted the award of moral and exemplary damages and attorney’s fees to private respondent.
Whether or not petitioner was illegally suspended.
The Court finds the suspension illegal. Here, although PAL complied with procedural due process as laid out in Article 277, paragraph (b) of the Labor Code, like issued a written notice of administrative charge, conducted a clarificatory hearing, and rendered a written decision suspending Montinola, the written notice of administrative charge, however, did not serve the purpose required under due process. PAL threaten her that if she insists on a specific notice of administrative charge, that will be construed as a waiver of the clarificatory hearing.
With Montinola unable to clarify the contents of the notice of administrative charge, there were irregularities in the procedural due process accorded to her. PAL denied Montinola substantial due process. Just cause has to be supported by substantial evidence. Substantial evidence, or "such relevant evidence as a reasonable mind might accept as adequate to support a conclusion," is the quantum of evidence required in administrative bodies such as the NLRC. It is reasonable to expect the employer to consider substantial evidence in disciplinary proceedings against its employees. The employer has the burden of proof in showing that disciplinary action was made for lawful cause. The employer must consider and show facts adequate to support the conclusion that an employee deserves to be disciplined for his or her acts or omissions. PAL, however, merely relied on pieces of information that are not sufficient to show the participation of any of the flight crew members, least of all Montinola. None of the evidence presented show that the customs officials confiscated any of these items from her.
Thus, the evidence by themselves do not show that Montinola pilfered airline items. Together with the manner in which the investigation proceeded, i.e., that Montinola was prevented from asking for clarification of the charges against her, the absence of substantial evidence is so apparent that disciplining an employee only on these bases constitutes bad faith.