Mart Laidmets, who was fired as acting director general of the Education and Youth Board (HARNO), won a partial victory in court against the Ministry of Education and Research (HTM), which must pay him compensation in the amount of one salary, or €4,700.
"I was able to establish [in court] what I have asserted from the start, namely, that dismissal in this way was unlawful; the court has now confirmed this," Laidmets told ERR on Wednesday.
"The ministry justified my dismissal based of unforeseen circumstances and lack of skills or knowledge, but the court found that the basis could be simply the completion of the employment contract and therefore the [minister's] order was null and void," Laidmets said.
The former head of HARNO, who was also formerly chancellor of the ministry of education and research, said he had gone to court primarily to seek justice and that the ruling against him could also effect other former ministry employees who had been fired.
"I went there primarily to seek justice, as I believe that harm has been done to many of the dozens of persons who were forced to leave HTM, citing a variety of relatively opaque reasons for their dismissal. Now there is a decision which, at least in the court of first instance, shows that these actions were unlawful," Laidmets said.
In its decision of July 20, the Tartu Administrative Court partially satisfied the claim of Laidmets, the court's press service told ERR.
The plaintiff demanded that the dismissal letter issued by the ministry be declared unlawful and insisted that the wording be altered. He also expected to receive compensation equal to three monthly salaries.
The court confirmed that the reasons given by the ministry for dismissing the high official on December 1, 2021, needed to be changed. According to the court's assessment, the ministry failed to provide sufficient arguments to support its claim that Laidmets lacked the knowledge and skills to continue as the department's head.
The court also pointed out that under the Civil Service Act, Mart Laidmets should have been given a reasonable period of time to correct his alleged performance deficiencies before he was fired, rather than immediately dismissing him from his position.
The court refused Laidmets' request for the full compensation, citing the fact that his employment contract would have expired on December 31, 2021, and it determined that the limited compensation of one month's salary was justified.
The court also ordered the Ministry of Education and Research to compensate Laidmets' legal fees in the amount of €1,531.
The decision of the first instance court has not become legally binding and may be appealed to the district court within 30 days.
Earlier, the Ministry of Education's press office reported that serious shortcomings were discovered in the actions of Laidmets after the external evaluation of the department's activities and transactions.
Mart Laidmets had told ERR earlier that he disagreed with the way in which he was fired and the reasoning used to justify it, and contested this decision in court.
The ministry's principal allegations against Laidmets were that he allegedly exceeded his authority and took on unjustified financial obligations.
Daily Eesti Päevaleht (EPL) reported that Laidmets signed an "unreasonable" contract with a consultancy firm owned by Ulle Illison, the former head of HARNO.
Laidmets said he is currently employed in the private sector, working for AS Estonian Environmental Services (AS Keskkonnateenused).
Ministry has not yet decided on next steps
Education and Research Minister Tõnis Lukas told ERR on Wednesday that the ministry had not yet decided what to do next.
"It is very good that the court has reached a decision. But I haven't had a chance to look at the case yet," Lukas said, and added that he will seek the opinion of the ministry's chancellor before proceeding with the lawsuit.
Editor: Kristina Kersa