Court Case

I have mentioned before on this blog that there is an ongoing issue in the Shinto world, more specifically at Jinja Honchō, as a former staff member has sued it for (the Japanese equivalent of) unfair dismissal. He reported his concerns about a particular real estate transaction to two members of the board of directors (in writing, and in less than perfectly temperate language), and he was fired for harming the reputation of Jinja Honchō and disturbing its internal order.

The judgement, at the Tokyo District Court, was handed down on March 18th. Jinja Honchō lost. The judge ruled that two of the things the former staff member had done were, on the face of it, grounds for dismissal, but that activity was covered by the (relatively new) Whistleblower Protection Act, and so Jinja Honchō was not legally allowed to fire him for it. He also, apparently, lied about being responsible for the reports, but the judge ruled that they couldn’t fire him for that. Given the (established) risk of being fired for whistleblowing, lying about whistleblowing could not be made grounds for dismissal.

A current employee, who was only demoted, was also party to the case, and the judge ruled that the grounds offered for demoting him were insufficient; the only one she acknowledged as suitable for discipline was that he mouthed off at a party once, and she said that demoting him was clearly excessive. The three other grounds that Jinja Honchō offered were rejected as being spurious.

Jinja Honchō had also argued that it was a small religious corporation, with only 60 employees, and that being required to re-employ the fired person would make it impossible for them to work, and violate their freedom of religion. The judge rejected that argument completely.

She ruled that the firing and demotion were legally void, so that the first employee was still employed and the second was still at his former rank, and required Jinja Honchō to pay their back salary for the four years or so since the penalties were imposed. (Note that, under Japanese law, Jinja Honchō is not required to rehire him — the ruling is that he was never actually fired, so that, for any internal rules based on seniority, he has been at Jinja Honchō for the whole period.)

While the employee said at a press conference that he looked forward to working on reforming Jinja Honchō’s procedures, Jinja Honchō has decided to appeal. This decision does not have unanimous support from the Board of Directors, nor from the heads of the prefectural Jinjachō. There is a substantial body of opinion that Jinja Honchō has lost the case, and now needs to concentrate on repairing the damage to its reputation and internal unity.

I do not know how the appeal will go. The Whistleblower Protection Act is, as I noted, fairly new, so the courts may decide that this decision is an important point of interpretation, and thus needs to be established by a higher court. Alternatively, the people within Jinja Honchō who think it would be better to heal the divisions than keep fighting may prevail, and the appeal may be dropped. No matter how things proceed, however, there are likely to be continuing tensions within Jinja Honchō.

(This post is entirely based on the reports in the March 29th issue of Jinja Shinpō.) 

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  1. Pingback: Preparing for the Oversight Council – Mimusubi

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