Public Defender Founds Discrimination against Imedi TV on the ground of Different Opinion
On 8 October 2019, the Public Defender of Georgia found discrimination against Imedi TV on the ground of different opinion. The case studied by the Public Defender concerned an opinion posted by a TV channel’s employee on the social network, which was described by the company as a violation of the corporate interest and the employment contract was terminated on the basis of a mutual agreement, after Imedi TV initiated the above.
According to the respondent, the applicant violated the generally recognized principle of corporate culture and stained Imedi TV's reputation. It should be noted that no such principle is enshrined in the company's internal regulations.
Examination of the case showed that the respondent had not thoroughly examined to what extent the public statement of its employee had violated the corporate interest of the company and what kind of reputational or financial damage had been suffered by the TV channel. In addition, the extent of dissemination of the applicant's statement was not assessed, which would have been decisive in determining whether it had resulted in the massive loss of public confidence in Imedi TV and reduction in its rating. The Public Defender noted that the existence of formal legal grounds for the termination of the employment contract does not rule out the existence of discrimination.
The Public Defender took into account the situation in the media and the sensitivity of the TV channel towards the criticism expressed against it, since the above is closely related to maintaining the viewers' trust in the TV company. Nevertheless, the Public Defender considered that the particular statement posted by the applicant, even considering the given context, had not gone beyond the scope of admissible criticism and had not contained a form of expression that would justify the use of particularly severe disciplinary measures.
It is indicated in the recommendation that the respondent was guided by an excessive standard of loyalty, broad interpretation of the protection of reputation and superficial assessment of the outcome/expected outcome, which could not justify the intensive interference with the applicant's rights. According to the Public Defender, the applicant's right to work was restricted by the expression of opinion by him/her, which cannot be regarded as a proportionate and appropriate means of achieving the legitimate aim of the respondent party.
In view of the foregoing, the Public Defender recommended the TV company to develop foreseeable provisions relating to the protection and violation of the corporate interest, including to establish a mechanism for investigating and responding to alleged violations of the corporate interest.