Court Faults Firm on HIV Discrimination, Orders Payment of 5-Year Salary as Compensation

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His Lordship, Hon. Justice Ikechi Nweneka of the Lagos judicial division of the National Industrial Court has declared the act of Ocea Ltd in disclosing the medical results of one Akinola to her colleagues and locking her out of the firm premises as discriminatory and amounts to stigmatization.

Justice Nweneka ordered the firm to pay Akinola 5 years’ salary as compensation for wrongful termination of her employment, discrimination at the workplace, stigmatization, embarrassment, psychological and emotional trauma in the sum of N2, 100, 000 [Two Million, One Hundred Thousand Naira] and N100, 000 costs of action within 14 days.

The court held that Ocea Ltd invaded Akinola’s right to privacy which is essential to the maintenance of her human dignity and also breached the provisions of the HIV Act and the guidelines in its handling of Akinola test result.

From facts, the claimant- Akinola had submitted that she went for the medical test with five other staff as directed that the result was not disclosed to her, but was sent directly to her employer. She argued that her privacy was intruded into when the delicate medical examination was done without her consent, and the result of the test was not disclosed to her but became known to her colleagues resulting in discrimination, embarrassment, and unlawful termination of her employment, urged the court to grant the reliefs sought.

In defense, the defendant contended that it did not specifically schedule Akinola for an HIV test, but for a full medical test on her and colleagues as permitted by the Labour Act, and could not have provided her with the test results since the health facility did not send any written result; and there is evidence that it asked Akinola to resume work so she can commence treatment and cannot be held liable for her refusal.

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The firm counsel contended that Akinola who alleged that her employer disclosed her medical status to her colleagues failed to lead clear evidence as to which staff it was disclosed to, when, how, and in what circumstances, urged the court to dismiss the case in its entirety.

In opposition, the learned counsel to Akinola, C. M. Ohamuo Esq argued that her client informed consent was not obtained before the medical test was instructed to be conducted, and based on firm instructions, the laboratory refused to disclose the nature of the test to be carried out, and merely gave her a form to fill at the medical centre which one of her colleagues filled out for her before she signed it, contrary to Illiterates Protection Law of Lagos State, urged the court to grant the reliefs sought.

Delivering the judgment after careful evaluation of the submission of both parties, the presiding judge, Justice Ikechi Nweneka held that the medical test demanded by the firm was not a precondition for an offer of employment that the existing law which permits the employer to carry out a medical test on the employee relates to pre-employment test.

Justice Nweneka held that giving Akinola a form to fill and sign does not constitute pre-test counselling or receipt of her informed consent, and the submission of her blood samples to the laboratory is not evidence of such consent or voluntariness of the test.

“There is no evidence that, from the nature of its business or activities, the Defendant is required to undertake yearly medical tests of employees, and there is no record of previous medical tests. The medical test ordered by the Defendant, therefore, does not have any justification in law. I so hold.”

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