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In Discrimination Lawsuit the Judge Considered BP as Main Respondent

The Tbilisi City Court is considering, the plaintiff, Vakhtang Pirmisashvili, under the advocacy of GTUC, the lawsuit against BP Exploitation (Caspian Sea) Limited, BP Exploitation (Caspian Sea) Limited Georgia Tbilisi Branch and their recruitment agency HRRA Ltd.

This dispute is under judicial proceedings since June 2016, when the Deputy Chairman of the “Pipeline Union” and BP Georgia’s construction manager Vakhtang Pirmisashvili has been unfairly dismissed from job on the grounds of discrimination on trade union membership.

Due to the overloading of the court, the hearing of the case N2/18610-16 began at the end of March of 2018. Although all participants of the dispute demanded the appointment of the preparatory session Judge Asmat Kokhreidze individually decided to convene Main Hearing without any preparation. The Court record states: “The court acquainted the claim, attached materials, and believes that the presented materials are sufficient to take into account this case PREPARED. Based on this, the MAIN HEARING should be appointed for the substantial consideration of a case by the court”.

The appointment of the Court Main Hearing was at first glance to be a reasonable circumstance to accelerate the trial process and to reestablish justice in a timely manner, but the plaintiff same as defendants appeared to be in the situation when they were not actually prepared and had important case evidence to be submitted to the Curt. The first reason for this was the fact that after two years since the dismissal, both sides had been acquainted with new evidences and on the other hand the case was handed over to court mediation, which lasted from February 2017 until the end of January 2018. In the process of mediation, all parties lacked possibility to work on the materials of the claim and submission of new evidence in The Court. Within 10 days after failure of the mediation, the appointment of the main Court hearing has created a problem with the submission and enclosure of new important evidence. The plaintiff appealed to the court twice to remand the case to the preparatory stage, but in vain, Judge Asmat Kokhreidze did not gratified any of his solicitations.

On March 20, 2018, the so-called “Main Hearing” was hold. Although the judge’s opinion was that case was prepared for the substantial consideration, the judge herself put such preparatory stage discussion circumstances under question as the issue of putative defendants and appropriate demands. Even for a person who is naïve in the jurisprudence, could guess that if the judge, who holds the case for almost two years, considers it prepared and on the first hearing asks such basic question, in a simple way to say, “Who complains whom and what are the demands are not understandable”, already raises a lot of doubts about case substantial consideration and convention of the main session.

In spite of the Judge artificial obstructions, the applicant party still submitted 48 solicitations about the request and acceptance of the new evidences of substantive importance for the case. Despite the fact that the judge had been forced by law to review the evidence, the plaintiff was still in such unequal condition when all evidence had to be evaluated in detail and only with the consent of the defendants and the judge would be legitimated and enclosed to the lawsuit. It is easy imaginable for lawyers how much time and resources are required to review and legitimate main hearing submitted evidence one by one and on a proper way. We should also NOT forget the Judge who has to be interested to support the defendants in order to justify her unequivocal decision that the materials presented are ample and there is no essential for the new ones. The above mentioned assumed the reasonable suspicion about adversarial nature of the civil trial process whose main guarantor must be the judge herself.

The solicitations consideration phase took 9 fact-finding hearings and more than 18 working hours. This long-term and artificially delayed process could be avoided if the judge did not initially and individually, without any oral hearing, decide the convention of main hearing or later she could consider and satisfy plaintiff’s one of the solicitations to remand case to the preparatory stage. To ilustrate it, according to the Civil Procedure Code of Georgia, the evidences presented at the preparatory stage would have been legitimated without any disposal and technically the enclosure of the 48 solisitations would require an hour-long hearing instead of 18 hours spent. It is evident how much time and energy is missing when it could be easily solved.

At this time the solicitations consideration phase is not completed yet, as the court has not yet discussed many of them requested by the plaintiff as well as by defendant to evocate some evidences from the adversaries. It is difficult to determine what the judge will conclude about, the case essential documents such as the contract between BP and the Employment Agency and labor agreement indivisible documents – stuff handbook and Code of conduct, provision and evocation from adversaries with court support. The plaintiff had an attempt to attach translated code of conduct and BP charter to the lawsuit, but the judge disregard the solicitation and did not legitimate evidences. We hope that this labor dispute will not be accomplished so that the indivisible documents, such as contract, stuff handbook, code of conduct and company charter are not attached to the case material.

For the objective assessment of the court proceedings, we would like to highlight the positive sides it that can be decisive for the final conclusion. The defendant company BP (We are intentionally specifying the company BP, which implies both dispute involved parties – BP Exploitation (Caspian Sea) Limited – the London Head Office, and BP Exploitation (Caspian Sea) Limited Georgia, Tbilisi Branch) at the time of presenting the answer, put the first solicitation on the suspension of the disposal against BP Georgia due to the absence of a dispute. Later they re-submitted the solicitation stating that BP Georgia as well as BP London were inappropriate responders of the claim. Two more demands were submitted during the clarified litigation by BP London to terminate the case proceedings against them.

In spite of four attempts by BP, the Court considered it reasonable not to stop the proceedings neither against BP London nor its Georgian branch because it was deemed that both defendants had to substantiate the claim. This one of the most important positive decision of the judge is the response to BP previous comments as if the dispute does not apply to them and the respondent is their recruitment agency only. At present, the court is discussing the lawsuit where in discrimination claim BP headquarters and its Georgian Branch are the main respondents.

Trade union activity and struggle for social and labor rights are always important for the development of a democratic society. The subject of this dispute is precedent and its fair and successful accomplishment will create an important and useful precedent for trade union rights fortification and displays the significance and inevitability of struggle for social and labor interests.