Court rejects compensation claim by former USJ senior lecturer

Eric Sautedé, a former senior lecturer of the University of Saint Joseph (USJ) has revealed today (Tuesday) his intentions to appeal a court decision that dismissed his compensation claim against the university for unfair dismissal.

Sautedé had made a compensation claim for MOP 1.3 million (US$162,828) from the USJ for unfairly dismissing him in 2014, seeking MOP800,000 in material damages and the remainder for damages to his reputation.

The French political researcher was responsible for the Asian Politics programme at the Catholic university. He initiated legal proceedings claiming that he was unable to secure a job after being dismissed from the institution.

On November 1, 2020 the TJB ruled as proven most of the facts alleged by the academic against USJ, but it has now determined that the dismissal did not violate his fundamental rights.

The court ruled that former USJ Dean Peter Stilwell, in an interview with newspaper Ponto Final, said that Sautedé was fired for his comments on local politics, and that the academic’s public opinions were a problem for the educational institution and contrary to the position of the Church.

Stilwell admitted that the academic had been fired without just cause, an option which USJ considered legal and legitimate. However, Sautede’s defense claims the dismissal was illegal and violated his right to freedom of expression and academic freedom, as well as the principle of equality and non-discrimination provided for in the Basic Law.

In a statement issued today after being notified of the court’s decision, Sautedé stated that the ruling considered the public declarations made by Stilwell to be irrelevant and that it was perfectly legitimate to fire the academic without just cause, with no infringement of his academic freedom and freedom of speech under the Basic Law, since the dean did not forbid him to make political comments.

The court ruling also considered that his dismissal was a way for USJ to ‘stick to its fundamental values,’ and that there had been no abuse of Sautedé’s labour rights by USJ since he was provided with a sum equivalent to a five-week salary.

The court was also said to have argued that there was no civil liability, as there was no wrongdoing in the first place and that no damage was made to Sautedé’s reputation because the academic resulted fully employable afterwards.

The researcher had previously claimed that he was unable to secure a job after being dismissed from the institution, as he was labelled by the university as a “political activist” and “troublemaker.”

“Clearly, although I have to accept the judge’s ruling in the first instance […] I have no other choice but to appeal against the judgement,” the researcher stated today.