Library ex-director loses labor dispute with the University of Tartu

Martin Hallik with his lawyer Kristi Sild in late 2018.
Martin Hallik with his lawyer Kristi Sild in late 2018. Source: ERR

Martin Hallik, former director of the University of Tartu Library, this week conclusively lost his labor dispute with the University of Tartu.

The Supreme Court of Estonia on Wednesday dismissed Hallik's appeal in cassation and left the February 20 ruling of the Tartu Circuit Court unchanged.

The Tartu Circuit Court in February satisfied an appeal by the University of Tartu and annulled a judgment by the Tartu County Court in the part in which it granted a claim by Hallik in a labor dispute and ordered the university to pay the sacked library director over €90,000. 

The second tier court passed a new judgment substituting the annulled portion of the lower court's judgment, by which it dismissed the claim on the university in its entirety.

Attorney Kristi Sild told BNS at the time that the court ruling is not right and that she will appeal it in the Supreme Court. "Firstly, we do not agree that if there is an intimate relationship between directly subordinate persons, it must, in any event, be presumed that it is not consensual. This also when there is a wealth of evidence of mutually friendly communication. Such an arbitrary approach cannot be accepted on principle. Hallik has not harassed anyone and his employment has been terminated illegally. History textbooks were rewritten during the Soviet era and we now call this a falsification of history. Approximately the same phenomenon is, unfortunately, happening in the ongoing case, where the relationship between Hallik and his colleague is rewritten ex-post and by using legal force," she said.

"Secondly, the views of the ruling make it impossible to challenge allegations of harassment and place an unrealistic burden of proof on the person against whom the harassment complaint is made. It can be concluded from the ruling of the circuit court that it is sufficient to only submit a complaint to be found guilty of harassment. A person is found guilty even if they are not shown the charges and are not allowed to give evidence, but at the same time are required to prove what has not happened. And if the person denies the charges against them, they must also prove the reasons for the charges against him when they do not correspond to reality. If someone tells you that you are a harasser and you do not agree, then, according to the circuit court, you should also prove, in your own defense, why anyone came up with the idea of accusing you of harassment at all. The ruling is far-fetched and does not take into account real human relationships, which are diverse in both large and small work teams," the lawyer said.

Specifically, the circuit court found that the University of Tartu had sufficient grounds to terminate the employment contract with Hallik due to loss of trust. It found that the university checked the facts that had come to its knowledge to the best of its ability and to a sufficient extent. 

The second tier court pointed out that under the Employment Contracts Act, an employer may cancel an employment contract due to a breach of an employee's obligation if the cancellation is preceded by a warning given by the employer.

However, a prior warning is not a prerequisite for cancellation if the employee cannot expect it from the employer due to particular severity of the breach of the obligation or for another reason pursuant to the principle of good faith.

The three-member panel of judges of the circuit court arrived at the conclusion that in said labor dispute case the need for a warning was precluded by both the severity and the nature of the acts that Hallik was accused of, as well as the fact that he breached, among other things, the obligations of the head of a structural unit arising from the employment contract and the library's statutes.

According to the second tier court, the severity of the breach of obligations committed by Hallik is characterized also by the fact that the situation impacted many employees of the library and led to the submission of an application to leave by one employee.

In said situation, according to the court, the University of Tartu was justified in adopting the stance that continuation of the employment relationship with the claimant was no longer possible. 

Based on the above, the court found the cancellation notice for the termination of Hallik's contract by the university is valid and all claims, including the claim for monetary compensation, are to be dismissed.  

The court left the procedural expenses related to the handling of the case in the county court and the circuit court to be borne by Hallik.

Previously, in September 2019, the first-tier Tartu County Court partially granted an action by Hallik against the university concerning a labor dispute and ordered the university to pay Hallik €90,568 in compensation.

The court found that termination of the employment contract with an emergency declaration of cancellation without a warning was not an appropriate measure and the termination of the contract without a warning was void.

According to the court, drawing attention to the inappropriateness of conduct would have been sufficient and the university would have been in a position to weigh the termination of the contract if Hallik had been warned that his conduct would bring with it the termination of the contract and Hallik's conduct would have repeated itself regardless. 

In addition, the court ordered the university to pay Hallik compensation in the amount of €90,568, of which €30,568 is foregone remuneration and €60,000 compensation for non-material damage.

The Tartu County Court on March 18 handed to Martin Hallik a conditional jail sentence for a sexual offense.

The court punished Hallik for compelling a person to engage in sexual intercourse with a conditional jail sentence of one year and six months. He also must pay the victim €5,000.

The attorney for Hallik, Oliver Naas, appealed the court's decision in the Tartu Circuit Court and the court deliberated behind closed doors. The circuit court has not yet issued a ruling.


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Editor: Helen Wright

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