By Rey Panaligan
Pregnancy of a school teacher out of wedlock is not a ground for termination of her employment in the absence of evidence that her sexual relations and subsequent pregnancy were disgraceful or immoral, the Supreme Court (SC) has ruled.
The SC pointed out that in the determination of whether a conduct is disgraceful or immoral, “a consideration of the totality of the circumstances surrounding the conduct and an assessment of the said circumstances vis-à-vis the prevailing norms of conduct, i.e., what the society generally considers moral and respectable, are necessary.”
With the ruling, the SC dismissed the petition filed by Union School International which challenged the decision of the Court of Appeals (CA) that found Charley Jane Dagdag illegally dismissed from her employment.
While the decision was issued last November and written by the now retired Associate Justice Noel G. Tijam, details of the ruling were released by the SC’s public information office (PIO) only on Friday (February 22). A copy of the decision was not immediately available.
The PIO’s case summary stated:
“Dagdag was an elementary school teacher employed on a probationary status by Union School when she found out she was eight weeks and five days pregnant. She informed the school of her pregnancy and that the father of her child was marrying another woman.
“When she did not report for work without informing Union School, she was suspended for four days for abandonment of work. She was also suspended an additional day as this was her second offense of absence without official leave.
“As Dagdag was single, the matter of being charged with gross immorality and her resignation was discussed during a hearing by the grievance committee.
“Dagdag then agreed to resign after she was apprised of the possible consequences if she will be dismissed from service as it might affect her next job application as compared to resigning.
“Dagdag filed a complaint against Union School for illegal dismissal, non-payment of salaries and benefits, moral and exemplary damages, and attorney’s fees.”
The case reached the SC on a petition filed by Union School represented by school superintendent Pastor Abraham Cho, board president Jamie Nabua, and Jennifer Mandapat. It challenged the CA decision that found the school guilty of illegally dismissing Dagdag from her employment.
Quoting from the decision, the PIO stated that the SC found that Dagdag had been constructively dismissed.
“The test of constructive dismissal is whether a reasonable person would have felt compelled to give up his employment/position under the circumstances. As aptly observed by the CA, Mandapat’s act of suggesting that Dagdag should simply tender her resignation, as the school may impose harsher penalties, left Dagdag with no choice but to discontinue working for Union School,” the PIO said based on the decision.
It said that the decision stated that “although there was a conduct of a grievance meeting, its outcome was already predetermined as petitioners were already resolute in their decision to terminate Dagdag’s employment. This is evident by the fact that Dagdag was left with two choices—resignation or dismissal and threatening her with possible revocation of her teaching license.”
It pointed out that the SC cited its previous decision which stressed that “… jurisprudence has already set the standard of morality with which an act should be gauged—it is public and secular, not religious; and more importantly, there must be substantial evidence to establish that premarital sexual relations and pregnancy out of wedlock is considered disgraceful or immoral.”
Thus, the SC concluded that “the totality of evidence in this case does not justify the dismissal of Dagdag from her employment considering that there was no legal impediment to marry between Dagdag and the father of her child at the time of conception,” it added.