Sanae Achar v SciGen Ltd

JudgeJudith Prakash J
Judgment Date28 November 2011
Neutral Citation[2011] SGHC 253
CourtHigh Court (Singapore)
Docket NumberSuit No 222 of 2010
Published date01 December 2011
Hearing Date16 March 2011,17 March 2011,15 March 2011,20 May 2011,18 March 2011,14 March 2011
Plaintiff CounselJonathan Yuen, Joana Teo and Jasmin Kaur (Harry Elias Partnership LLP)
Defendant CounselWilliam Ong and Sylvia Tee (Allen & Gledhill LLP) the defendant.
Subject MatterEmployment Law
Citation[2011] SGHC 253
Judith Prakash J: Introduction

The plaintiff is a young woman of Moroccan nationality currently residing in Dubai. In April 2008, the plaintiff was employed by the defendant, a Singapore biotechnology company listed on the Australian Stock Exchange, as a business development consultant for the Middle East in connection with the defendant’s sale in the region of its vaccine against hepatitis B. The plaintiff claims that her contract of employment was prematurely terminated and, as a result, the defendant is contractually obliged to pay her various sums of money. The defendant’s response is that the plaintiff’s employment was not terminated in December 2008 as she claims but rather that the defendant terminated the contract for cause in May 2009 and, accordingly, the plaintiff’s claim has no basis.

The employment contract dated 14 April 2008 (“the Contract”) between the defendant (described therein as the “Employer”) and the plaintiff (addressed therein as “You”) contained the following material terms:

Period of Employment

Your employment will start on the 14th of April, 2008 and will continue for the remaining period of three (3) years or until it is terminated by either Party in accordance with the provisions of this Agreement.




You will: devote the necessary working time, attention and skill to your employment by the Employer; devote such time as is necessary for the proper performance of your duties; properly perform your duties and exercise your powers;


obey the directions of the Employer; and


You will keep the Employer fully informed of your conduct of the business, finances or affairs of the Employer or any of its Related Entity in a prompt and timely manner. You will provide information to the Employer in writing if requested.


Reporting Structure

You will report to Saul Mashaal, Chairman and Chief Executive Officer and the position is to be located in Dubai.


Annual Leave

You are entitled to annual leave, as set out in Schedule 1, and on the following conditions:

... Annual leave shall be taken at times agreed with the Employer; ... ...

Termination of Employment

Termination by Either Party on Giving Notice

You or the Employer may terminate your employment as a consultant by giving the other Party one month’s written notice. If the notice is given by the Employer prior to the end of the employment period as per the agreement the Employer shall give you the balance due to the end of the employment agreement.

PROVIDED ALWAYS that the Employer may at any time terminate your employment by giving the requisite payment in lieu of notice or part thereof.

Termination by Employer without Notice and Suspension

The Employer may terminate your employment without giving notice if you do any of the following: Commit a serious or persistent breach of your employment obligations under this Agreement; Guilty of serious misconduct or a serious dereliction in the performance of your duties; Fail to comply with any lawful and reasonable order or direction given by an authorised officer of the Employer;


Guilty of dishonesty ... whether in connection with your employment or otherwise;


Any other act which at common law would entitle the Employer to end your employment summarily.

You will have no claim for damages or any other remedy against the Employer if your employment is terminated for any of the reasons set out in this Clause.

The plaintiff’s case is that on 1 December 2008, she was informed by her superior, Mr Saul Mashaal (“Mr Mashaal”), by way of a letter that a pre-existing distribution agreement between the defendant and a Middle-Eastern company named Gulf Pharmaceutical Industries (commonly referred to as “Julphar”) had been terminated. As such there was no longer any reason for her job role and hence her employment with the defendant was terminated. The termination letter provided that she would continue to receive her total compensation monthly from the defendant until the Contract terminated on 30 April 2011 except that once she accepted a position elsewhere the Contract would automatically terminate. On 29 May 2009, however, the defendant sent her a letter purporting to terminate her employment without notice. This was a breach of contract and she was thereby wrongfully deprived of the salary and benefits she would otherwise have enjoyed and earned for the duration of the Contract and has therefore suffered loss and damage. In total, the plaintiff claims to be entitled to payment of US$255,428.57.

The defendant’s case is that no termination letter was issued to the plaintiff on 1 December 2008 and that the document that the plaintiff relies on was not signed contemporaneously but was created in April or May 2009 and backdated. The plaintiff was an employee of the defendant until 29 May 2009 when the defendant terminated her employment for cause because the plaintiff had been guilty of dishonesty by falsely alleging that she had been given notice of termination. Additionally, the defendant alleges that there were other facts that entitled it to terminate the plaintiff’s employment for cause.

The questions raised by this case are therefore questions of fact and questions of the credibility of the various parties.

The plaintiff’s story

This account is taken entirely from the plaintiff’s affidavit of evidence-in-chief. The plaintiff stated that she was employed by the defendant on 14 April 2008 with a job description that was “coordination and support function between SciGen [ie the defendant], Julphar and its distributors throughout the Middle East and North Africa”. The Contract provided that she was to report directly to Mr Mashaal, the then CEO of the defendant.

On 1 December 2008, the plaintiff was informed by Mr Mashaal by way of letter (“the Termination Letter”) that the distribution agreement between Julphar and the defendant for the hepatitis B vaccine had been terminated with effect from 1 December 2008. As such, there was no longer any reason for her job and hence the plaintiff’s employment with the defendant was terminated. The Termination Letter stated: You are to stop all promotional activities with the distributors in the Middle East effective immediately; The employment agreement executed between you and SciGen will be honoured and you shall continue to receive your total compensation monthly until it terminates April 30th, 2011; and Once you have accepted a position elsewhere, the agreement between you and SciGen will automatically terminate.

On the same day, 1 December 2008, the plaintiff received an email from Mr Mashaal on her company account giving her 30 days’ notice of termination of employment effective 1 December 2008 (“the Termination Email”). As she already had the Termination Letter printed on the defendant’s letterhead, she did not print out a copy of the Termination Email.

On 15 December 2008, the plaintiff applied to Mr Mashaal for leave of absence from work for the period from 20 April 2009 to 15 May 2009 as she did not know if she would receive another job opportunity before April 2009 and thought it best to apply for leave formally in that case.

Mr Mashaal sent her an email on the same day informing her that her leave had been approved (“the Leave Email”). Immediately after the email, Mr Mashaal also signed a memorandum (“the Leave Memorandum”) stating that her leave of absence had been approved and adding that “overseas employees need only request authorization from their immediate supervisor for a leave of absence”. Furthermore, Mr Mashaal advised the plaintiff over the telephone that she no longer needed to apply for leave as she had been terminated. As she had received the Leave Memorandum signed by Mr Mashaal in his capacity as chairman and CEO of the defendant and printed on the defendant’s letterhead, she did not print out a copy of the Leave Email.

After the plaintiff had been given notice of termination, she began looking elsewhere for employment opportunities. She attended interviews in India in January 2009 to secure alternative employment. The plaintiff was supposed to arrive in Singapore on 3 May 2009 for interviews that Mr Mashaal was to arrange for her. He subsequently advised her that it was no longer his responsibility to organise interviews as his own employment had been terminated. The trip was therefore cancelled.

On 20 April 2009, the plaintiff went on vacation as scheduled. On 21 April 2009, she received an email from Ms Lena Chng (“Ms Chng”), the personal assistant to Mr Adam Allerhand (“Mr Allerhand”), who had become the CEO and chairman of the defendant on 20 April 2009 upon the termination of Mr Mashaal’s employment. Ms Chng asked for the plaintiff’s travel approval form for the trip to Singapore. The plaintiff responded the same day that her trip to Singapore had been cancelled and the ticket was to be sent for a refund.

On 22 April 2009, Mr Allerhand sent the plaintiff an email enquiring as to the purpose of her visit to Singapore and for a status report on her current projects. The plaintiff did not understand why Mr Allerhand wanted a status report when he knew or ought to have known as CEO of the defendant that the distribution agreement, for which she had been hired, had been terminated and her role had been made redundant.

The plaintiff was also offended because she had been fired by Mr Mashaal and Mr Allerhand should already have been aware of that. She knew it was only Mr Allerhand’s third day on the job and she assumed he had not been informed of her termination. She was annoyed that she would have to type out a long response explaining her...

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