Honourable Justice I.G Nweneka of the National Industrial Court of Nigeria, Lagos Judicial Division has ordered Uber Technologies Inc. and two others to pay its former employee, Mr. Cheick Ouedraogo millions of Naira in damages for workplace harassment, victimization and wrongful termination. The Honorable Judge made the orders in Suit No. NICN/LA/424/2020 judgement of which was delivered on May 13, 2022.
As per the facts of the case, Mr. Ouedraogo was interviewed and employed by Uber Technologies Inc. and was deployed to its Nigerian subsidiary, Uber Technologies System Nigeria Limited (Uber Nigeria), as a Senior Business Development Associate, Vehicle Solutions. During his employment, Mr. Ouedraogo’s first line manager, Mimi Omokri, who was Head of Business Development, Sub-Saharan Africa of Uber Nigeria, subjected him to various forms of victimization, harassment, and demeaning comments. Mimi Omokri was in the habit of making uncouth remarks about Mr. Ouedraogo, continuously calling him “Drogo”, a notorious homeless and barbarian character in the famous HBO series “Game of Thrones” which Mr. Ouedraogo found offensive.
Being uncomfortable with the constant harassment and the toxic work environment engineered by Mimi Omokri, Mr. Ouedraogo escalated the issues and his concerns to his first and second line managers in line with the provisions of Uber Inc’s staff handbook. However, no relevant action was taken by either of Uber Inc or Uber Nigeria. Rather, Mr. Ouedraogo was continuously victimized by Mimi Omokri, significantly reducing his workload and refusing to assign tasks to him which led to his low output and eventual termination.
The National Industrial Court in finding for Mr. Ouedraogo and holding Uber Inc. and Uber Nigeria jointly liable found that there was co-employer status between Uber Inc. and Uber Nigeria. The court referred to the staff handbook of Uber Inc. and Uber Nigeria in that Uber Inc. exercises control on Uber Nigeria and also retains its ability to determine the nature of work of its employees in any country they are posted to.
The Court also found that Mimi Omokri’s constant reference to Mr. Ouedraogo as “Drogo” after he had constantly expressed his dissatisfaction regarding this on several occasions constitutes workplace harassment. The Court also found that Mimi Omokri had victimized Mr. Ouedraogo by reducing his workload, instructing his juniors in his stead, thereby leading to his low output and eventual termination, which the Court held was wrongful. The Court condemned Uber Nigeria’s termination of Mr. Ouedraogo’s employment on two different occasions without stating the reason(s) for termination.
The Court in holding both Uber entities vicariously liable for Mimi Omokri’s unlawful actions held that both entities ratified the harassment and victimization perpetrated by Mimi Omokri by taking no action even after receiving escalations from Mr. Ouedraogo.
The Court also held the termination of Mr. Ouedraogo contrary to international best practices in that Uber Nigeria had orally communicated the reason for his termination to him before issuing two different notices of termination without stating reasons for termination in those notices based on a supposed reliance on the staff handbook that the company could terminate without reasons.
Judgement was given in favour of the ex-employee and all defendants were ordered to pay damages in millions of Naira to Mr. Ouedraogo in addition to paying the cost of instituting the action.