TBILISI, DFWatch– A financial investor with dual Georgian-Canadian citizenship received an email from his employer, a Georgian subsidiary of a large American private equity firm, with a letter terminating his work contract.
The reasons presented in the email were obviously ‘trumped up’, Juansher Mikadze, former manager, says.
He has started litigation procedures and filed a lawsuit against SGI Georgia LLC, the Georgian branch of Schulze Global Investments. SGI Georgia was founded and run with significant input from Mikadze, he insists.
In the lawsuit filed with Tbilisi City Court, he demands reinstatement. A date has not been set for the hearing.
According to Georgian legal experts, this kind of lawsuit has become increasingly common lately, because people are often dismissed without proper explanation or motivation, sometimes on made-up and irrelevant grounds.
Representatives of Georgian Trade Unions Confederation (GTUC) explain that there are more such cases than the number of lawsuits. Many people choose not to take their case to court when their rights are violated, especially when their salary is not high enough.
High salaries are rare in Georgia and people cannot afford to pay the legal expenses including the lawyer’s fees. In addition, court proceedings require extended periods of time and if the case goes through every instance, it may last for up to two years. That’s why many people prefer not to go to court.
Considering the fact that Mikadze’s lawsuit concerns an alleged violation of the labor rights of a highly paid manager in a foreign company, the case has sparked more interest than other such cases.
Lawyer Vilen Sergia is confident and says there is a good chance to win the case.
“The argument of the [company’s] leadership is that my client was sacked due to a gross violation, but we believe that there wasn’t any violation, and he was dismissed for absolutely unreasonable, made-up reasons. Signs of personal interest are distinctly noticeable in the very primitive and unjustified dismissal document. It is clear that [the company] indicated ‘gross violation’ to avoid a payment of compensation for violation of the contract conditions,’ the lawyer told DFWatch.
He adds that SGI is a well-regarded American firm and he is astonished by such a gross violation of labor rights in the company.
Gocha Alexandria, GTUC vice president, says the trade union often gets involved in such cases, backing the fired workers along with lawyers. He says the majority of the cases concern blue-collar workers, but there are some cases when managers also sue their companies.
Alexandria says that GTUC is currently handling a case of a manager at Ioli, the Georgian supermarket chain, who was accused of incompetence and fired.
Alexandria also recalls a case they won against the deputy director of Geocell, a mobile provider, when one of the managers was sacked after a dispute with his superior. The former sued the company for 70,000 GEL (approximately USD 30,000) in damages and eventually won the case.
The content of the dispute against SGI Georgia is that Mikadze received a notice about termination of his contract, where managing director, Mikheil Nibladze, accused him of a gross violation of the terms of his work contract.
Mikadze claims most of the accusations are “trumped up” and that the director is only trying to disguise the actual reasons for his dismissal. He thinks that the real motives were personal negative attitudes towards him from the director’s side.
He says that he has never been reprimanded or received any warning letter from the director. Mikadze adds that one of his workplace violations mentioned in the notice says he did not fulfill a specific assignment on July 17, 2015, but the company signed a long-term contract with him just a few weeks afterward, on August 4, thus making the allegation void.
“[The director] had always falsely viewed me as his professional competitor and a potential threat to his position. Since the very first days, he was aggressive and had a negative attitude toward me, and there were several unusual incidents revealing his unbalanced demeanor. At the time, I thought that it was just a misunderstanding and his mistake, but later it turned out that this was the director’s managing style, through which he was attempting to disguise his sheer ignorance and dilettantism,” Mikadze told DFWatch.
He believes that the real reason for his dismissal is a letter he wrote to the director criticizing his professional competence. Mikadze claims that despite containing criticism, the letter was friendly and aimed at improving the general work environment at the company. But the director felt offended.
Mikadze demands that the notice of dismissal is annulled, that he is reinstated in his previous position at the company and compensating for his days of absence.
The director of the company, Mikheil Nibladze, doesn’t agree with the content of the lawsuit and says that the accusations are groundless. In an email written after DFWatch inquired into the issue, he writes the the contract was terminated in absolute accordance with Georgian legislation and the terms of the contract.
“We do not make additional comments, as a trial is pending and we will wait until it is over and the court makes a decision,” he wrote to DFWatch.
According to the company website, Schulze Global Investments is founded and led by Gabriel Schulze, the current CEO, while Alexander Benard is chief operating officer. The company has its office in Georgia from 2011 and in June, 2015, launched a $100 million Caucasus Clean Energy Fund that will focus on hydropower projects and clean energy.