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Shabbat Parashat Pekudei 5784

P'ninat Mishpat: How to Take Payment from A Guarantor part lII

(based on ruling 82124 of the Eretz Hemdah-Gazit Rabbinical Courts)

Case: The defendant (=def) hired the plaintiff (=pl) to start a girls’ high school. Her responsibilities included recruiting to open the school and then serving as the principal. Towards the end of the school’s first year, def fired pl. [We will deal with various elements of the dispute separately.] Pl demands 80,000 NIS for improper firing without a hearing and the emotional distress it caused, especially from the fact that def introduced pl’s replacement behind her back before keeping the joint promise to agree on how to inform the students. Def responds that he offered pl a hearing and that he fired pl because she was planning to start a competing school. Def countersued pl for 150,000 NIS for violating her commitment to be loyal to the school by planning to start competition, and 50,000 NIS for abuse that bordered on sexual abuse by pl’s demanding compliments from him.

 

Ruling: Pl and def’s partnership took a turn for the worse when def decided that his daughter would become the school secretary, and pl refused because it would stymie her freedom to run the school. Pl started to make demands, via email, of steps needed to bolster her standing, and after a few weeks, def demanded a hearing with pl. Pl refused to participate in a hearing and demanded agreement on her terms via email. After several days of each applying pressure via email, def fired pl via email, effective the end of the school year.

Def had the right to not rehire pl, as her contract was explicitly a one-year commitment. There is no need for a hearing, and here, in any case, def invited pl clearly for one, and she refused.

Regarding informing the students and parents, pl has a grievance, as the two had agreed not to act unilaterally, and def did not keep his word, which caused pl embarrassment. Def’s claim that he had to act to preempt pl’s “stealing the school” was not substantiated. Beit din does not have grounds to levy a formal payment for the personal affront (def did not defame her), but they recommend that def pay pl an extra half-month of salary along with an apology as moral amends.

Pl denies she worked on making a new school. She admits only to a single inquiry if someone would back the present school if def pulled out financial backing. After the firing, pl did look into the possibility of claiming that the school was hers rather than def’s, as she formed it, and a witness testified that pl might have taken such a course if the witness had not supported def. However, there are no grounds for obligating money for contemplations that did not bring on concrete steps or damage.

Most of pl and def’s interaction was via email. While there were emotional emails in which pl shared her frustration and one set of emails in which she complained that def did not show appreciation for her contributions, nothing rose to the level of abuse. She also seriously apologized a few times for strong messages, and def accepted the apologies. Def never gave any form of pl’s abuse as a reason for firing her, and he even offered a raise in salary after the exchanges took place. Therefore, this accusation by def is inappropriate and defamatory; it appears that he made the claims to intimidate or counter pl’s monetary claims, which is wrong. Therefore, def must pay pl 12,000 NIS toward her legal expenses.

 

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