By Mashudu Netsianda
The High Court has ordered the National Railways of Zimbabwe (NRZ) to pay a retired train conductor US$13 500 as compensation for psychological trauma, humiliation and defamation after he was unlawfully fired for allegedly defrauding the organisation of $108.
Mr Joseph Marshall Stuart was employed by NRZ as conductor for the train plying the Bulawayo-Victoria Falls route when he was fired on charges of fraud having joined the company in 1977.
He was accused of inflating a fare for a passenger who had boarded the train and understated the figure on the ticket before allegedly pocketing the difference of $108.
The essence of the charge was that Mr Stuart collected a higher fare than what he receipted and converted the difference to his own use. He was fired after an internal disciplinary hearing despite the passenger not having been called to testify as a witness.
Dissatisfied with the findings of the disciplinary hearing, Mr Stuart appealed to the General Manager and the application was dismissed. He approached the High Court and challenged his conviction and sentence and he won the case and was reinstated.
In an application filed at the Bulawayo High Court through his lawyers Majoko and Majoko Legal Practitioners, Mr Stuart said he suffered humiliation and mental anguish as a result of losing employment.
In papers before the court, he cited NRZ as a defendant.
“While I was busy trying to prove my innocence, I was served with a notice that the loan on my house was due and foreclosure was threatened. I had accessed a loan from the defendant (NRZ) to buy the house,” he said.
Mr Stuart said his marriage broke down and had to endure divorce and his health was affected such that he had to consult doctors and specialists for post traumatic disorder arising from ill-treatment at work.
He said despite reinstatement, he was forced to take retirement on medical grounds due to psychological trauma he suffered on being fired due to allegations of fraud.
Mr Stuart sought an order directing NRZ to compensate him for loss of earning, pension benefits, psychological injury, loss of general health, amenities of life, medical expenses incurred, contumelia humiliation and defamation.
NRZ through its lawyers, Mbizo, Muchadehama and Makoni Legal Practitioners, argued that Mr Stuart was dishonest in carrying out his duties as a train conductor.
Bulawayo High Court judge Justice Nicholas Ndou said Mr Stuart suffered mental anguish caused by allegations of fraud levelled against him.
He ordered NRZ to pay Mr Stuart US$13 500 or the equivalent at the prevailing interbank rate.
“I am satisfied from the evidence that the plaintiff was defamed by defendant’s conduct. This is a grave defamation because the plaintiff was a long serving member of the train staff.
“For the foregoing, it is accordingly ordered that the defendant pays the plaintiff (Mr Stuart) US$13 500 or local currency at the interbank rate applicable on the date of payment for bodily injury, contumelia, humiliation, defamation and past medical expenses,” ruled Justice Ndou.
He ordered NRZ to bear the legal costs. The Chronicle