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District Court: disciplinary dismissal of Ewa Wanat disproportionate

On 18 February 2016, the District Court for Warszawa-Śródmieście entered the judgment in the case brought by Ewa Wanat against the RDC radio station. According to the court, the disciplinary dismissal of the editor-in-chief, which took immediate effect, was a disproportionate measure. The HFHR joined in the proceedings as a community organisation.

The case involved a post of Ewa Wanat, which she put on her Facebook profile page in August 2015. The post discussed the compulsory education requirement for six-year-olds and Mr and Ms Elbanowscy, promoters of “Ratuj Maluchy” (“Save the Little’uns”) campaign. According to the Board of RDC, the former editor-in-chief had violated the provision of a resolution adopted by the Board of the Polish Radio, which prohibited the broadcaster’s employees from online posting any content that could “put in question their personal credibility, or the credibility of their colleagues or that of the Polskie Radio RDC”. Moreover, it was argued that the journalist had been carrying out her official duties on a sick leave. Ewa Wanat filed an action for unfair dismissal, challenging the basis of termination of her employment contract.

In the judgement the District Court stated that not every violation of the obligation to have regard to the good name of a work establishment can justify immediate termination of the employment contract. A person may be dismissed on disciplinary grounds only in exceptional circumstances, when the breach of employee’s duties was serious, gross, intentional and resulted in an actual threat to the employer. The court ruled that the behaviour of Ewa Wanat could justify the employer’s loss of confidence in her as an employee. The court emphasised that an editor-in-chief must be aware of the fact that their statements can have impact on the image of their radio station. However, it stated that Ewa Wanat had not violated the basic employee’s duties, either intentionally or by negligence. For this reason, the court ruled that her immediate dismissal was a disproportionate measure and awarder the dismissed journalist PLN 15,000 as compensation.

In the justification of the ruling the court also discussed the objections, raised by both the claimant and the HFHR, that the conduct of RDC violated the right to freedom of expression. The court did not share the view. The court emphasised that public debate should respect certain standards, including respect for the reputation and the rights of others.

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