Former president of club loses defamation suit against employee
Judge says the work complaint against him 'necessarily entails levying allegations'.
The former president of Serangoon Gardens Country Club who sued a former employee and her supervisor for defamation, after she filed a work complaint against him, has lost his case in the High Court.
Mr Terrence Fernandez alleged that Ms Genevieve Lim Shao Ying, who was the club's membership relations manager, had conspired with Mr Goh Juak Kin, who was the general manager, to injure him.
In a written judgment on Wednesday, High Court judge Valerie Thean rejected Mr Fernandez's assertion that the complaint was defamatory. Justice Thean said a workplace complaint "necessarily entails levying allegations".
"The ordinary reasonable person would have understood the complaint to be part of a larger disciplinary framework. The truth of Ms Lim's allegations would, in other words, be unsettled until due process has been accorded to it," said the judge.
The judge found that Ms Lim filed the complaint not out of malice, but to protect herself against what she perceived as workplace harassment and victimisation.
Justice Thean added that Ms Lim's statements were justified because Mr Fernandez's acts of micromanagement led her to feel victimised.
The case arose out of a formal complaint against Mr Fernandez made by Ms Lim in 2018.
At the time, he was chairman of the club's membership relations department sub-committee.
Ms Lim, who headed the department, did not have a good working relationship with him.
Within three weeks of starting work in January 2017, she told human resource manager Linda Loke that she felt "tremendous work pressure" and sought confirmation that she reported to Mr Goh rather than Mr Fernandez.
Ms Lim went on to discuss her grievances with Ms Loke seven times over three months.
In April 2017, Ms Lim wrote to Mr Goh, criticising Mr Fernandez's "damaging and disruptive behaviour". She alleged that working with him had been "painful" and, on several occasions, "belittling".
Despite a mediation session arranged by then club president Randy Sng, their relationship remained strained.
Things came to a head on Dec 8, 2017, when Ms Lim told a non-member named Alfred Wong that he should not be on club premises. Later that day, Mr Wong wrote to Mr Goh about his "unpleasant encounter". Mr Fernandez learnt of the incident from Mr Wong and raised concerns about the matter in e-mail correspondence with Mr Goh, which was copied to Ms Lim and Mr Sng. The matter with Mr Wong was resolved amicably on Dec 26, 2017. But Mr Fernandez continued to pursue the matter and proposed a meeting involving the club's trustees or patrons.
Ms Lim filed a complaint on Jan 4, 2018, and Mr Goh forwarded it, together with his own views, to Mr Sng. Mr Sng tried to set up a meeting but Mr Fernandez did not attend, despite multiple attempts to accommodate his schedule.
On Jan 30, 2018, Mr Fernandez was removed as chairman of the sub-committee.
A disciplinary inquiry was started against him but before it could conclude, he was elected club president on June 24, 2018.
Mr Goh and Ms Loke resigned that day, while Ms Lim resigned the following month.
The disciplinary charges against Mr Fernandez were later dismissed. He sued Ms Lim and Mr Goh in February 2019, claiming they were in a conspiracy to sabotage his bid for club presidency, among other things.
Mr Fernandez is no longer club president, as a new general committee was voted into office in September last year.
Source: Straits Times © Singapore Press Holdings Ltd. Permission required for reproduction.