“It can be easily deduced that repeated suggestions and persuasion by mid-level management to quit one’s job will put one in a state of despair, where one believes there is no choice, even if one continues to resist… Thus the act of leaving a worker no choice but to write and submit a resignation against her wishes constitutes unfair dismissal.”
Allianz First Life’s dismissed couple employees win second trial
Boosts chances for other workers facing gender discriminatory dismissals
Welcome ‘recognition of the peculiarities of worker-management relations’
In August of 1998, the 88 married couples working at Allianz First Life were told that either of the spouses had to resign, and 86 of the 88 who resigned were the wives.
“At first the company picked the long-time women workers and assigned them new posts far from home. But the women hung on, living in boarding houses near their new posts. There were rumors back then that the company was going to spare no means in making the women workers quit. The first target was the long-timers, then the wives whose husbands also work in the company, then married women, and then women with many children… The company knows how to make the wives of couple employees leave. They summon the husband and get him to make his wife resign and threaten him with disadvantages at work. Many women would have continued resisting if the management bore down on them alone, but who would take the risk when her husband has been taken hostage?” (from the testimony of the plaintiff)
At the first trial, however, the judge did not acknowledge that these women had been coerced into resigning. They lost the case, with the judge ruling, “Since the plaintiff had written the resignation letter herself as a result of her own decision that it was for the best, it is not an enforced resignation, regardless of whether the plaintiff wanted to quit or not.”
Labor consultant Jeong Hyeong Ok says about the first trial, “A superior’s verbal pressure on a subordinate can be a threat to the latter’s livelihood, but the court’s only yardstick was whether or not that subordinate wrote her own resignation letter.” About the second trial that reversed the ruling of the first, Jeong evaluates that “it is a welcome decision that recognizes the peculiarities of worker-management relations.”
“Honestly we don’t know what to do if the company files an appeal. You think the judges were unaware of the circumstances during the first trial? Anyone with common sense knew that we were forced to resign. It’s not something that you need a theory to figure out. The second trial’s ruling was by someone who still has the ability to tell between right and wrong. But we don’t know how the judges at the Supreme Court will look at the case…” (Park Bo Sun)
Depends on court’s point of view
The four women who had won the case four years after their dismissal, the 7 from local branches who are going through their second trial, and the Nonghyup (Agricultural Cooperative) couple employees awaiting their second trial all seem somewhat listless. Like Park Bo Sun said, they are “suspicious of the court’s ability to tell between right and wrong.”
“I attended the Nonghyup workers’ trial. That case is even more clear-cut than ours. We only got verbal pressure to quit, but the Nonghyup workers have documentary evidence that the company threatened to put them on a rotation lay-off list. If you’re on that list and you don’t get an assignment within a year, you’re dismissed for good. That in itself is pressure and coercion. It was frustrating to see the judges rule against such a clear-cut case. I’ve learnt that there is a big difference between the law and common sense.” (Myeong Young Sun)
Kim Hyang Ah, one of the couple employees dismissed by Nonghyup, describes her feelings as she awaits the second trial: “Ignorance gives you courage… Back then we started out thinking, ‘This is a law-governed country, the courts will protect the unjustly wronged.’ But three years have passed since then. Now I think, ‘How could I have start this in such a lawless country?’ During the proceedings, we didn’t have the money to lobby our cause nor the credentials to have much say, but in everything else we did our best.”
The outcome of the trial is being watched with hope by the dismissed wives of couple employees, the Womenlink Korea and other women groups supporting them, the countless women workers who have faced gender discriminatory dismissals but did not filed lawsuits, and all women workers who always top the layoff list in the name of restructuring.
“The statistics and circumstances all clearly point to gender discrimination in layoffs. If the court has not realized this by now, it’s still not too late for the court to set new definitions.” (Kim Hyang Ah, currently going through second trial for Nonghyup workers)
“The ruling of this trial will have a huge influence on getting society to realize that it is unfair to dismiss the wives of couple employees. The women ‘would not have been sacked if they weren’t wives.’ We hope to build the social foundation for the protection of women’s working rights.” (Seo Min Ja, secretary of the labor center of Womenlink Korea)