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First hearing in case of dismissed lawyer of Polish Security Printing Works

On Wednesday 15 March, the District Court for Warszawa-Śródmieście heard the case brought by a former employee of the Polish Security Printing Works (PWPW). Ewa Morawska-Sochacka was dismissed by the company for a “disciplinary violation” after she wrote to the president of the company’s supervisory board pointing to possible negative consequences of planned organisational reforms.

The company’s management further alleged that she had spoken to the media about the situation in the PWPW despite having received no authorisation to do so. Ms Morawska-Sochacka rejects any allegation of providing information to journalists.

Mr Bogusław Kapłon of Domański Zakrzewski Palinka has agreed to represent the claimant pro bono as a courtesy to the Helsinki Foundation for Human Rights. The HFHR also joined the case as a non-governmental organisation.

Layoffs at PWPW

Ewa Morawska-Sochacka was employed in the PWPW from 1999. She had served as employees’ representative elected to the supervisory board from 2000 to the moment of dismissal. In 2016, a new management board was appointed in the company. Many employees were laid off, including the PWPW’s legal department headed by Ms Morawska-Sochacka. She spoke to the management on behalf the laid off associates, invoking the difficult family situation of some of them and presenting possible negative consequences of the employment reduction for the company’s operations. Her actions included sending a letter to the chair of the supervisory board, copies of which were addressed to the Minister of the State Treasury and company’s trade union organisations.

A journalist from Newsweek found out about the letter and used sections of it in an article on irregularities within the company, published on 26 August 2016. According to Ms Morawska-Sochacka, she did not know about it or consent to have the contents of her letter published.

Ewa’s dismissal

In August 2016, the Extraordinary Meeting of Shareholders of the PWPW resolved to dismiss Ms Morawska-Sochacka from the supervisory board at the request of the management board. On the next day, she was handed a termination notice, effective immediately. In justifying the dismissal, the company alleged that the claimant had given false information to a journalist, defamed the company’s president and disseminated inside information to unauthorised persons. However, no evidence of such violations was given. Ewa Morawska-Sochacka appealed against the dismissal to the court, arguing that the reasons for disciplinary action were untrue and given for the sake of appearance.

HFHR steps in. Freedom of speech at workplace

The HFHR has joined the case as a non-governmental organisation. “In the assessment of the HFHR, the termination of Ms Morawska-Sochacka’s employment raises concerns as a likely violation of the freedom of speech and principle of equal treatment and constituted discrimination that resulted from her notification of irregularities in the company’s functioning and the expression and defence of its employees”, reads the joinder submission of the Foundation.

Chilling effect

According to the HFHR, the facts of the case show that the sanctions imposed on the claimant by the company’s management are unjustified and create negative consequences not only for the claimant but also for other employees. This is because such sanctions may deter other employees from reporting irregularities at work to the employer.

The HFHR wants to thank Mr Bogusław Kapłon of Domański Zakrzewski Palinka for his pro bono work on the case.

“I know and I will tell”, HFHR’s publication devoted to various aspects of the legal protection of whistleblowers, including those which appeared in Ewa’s case, can be accessed here.

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