The Tokyo District Court on Monday nullified a decision by NHK to end the contract of a French anchorwoman who temporarily fled Japan during the Fukushima nuclear crisis in March 2011.
The ruling also declared that Emmanuelle Bodin’s decision to leave Japan in the face of the nation’s worst-ever nuclear crisis and prioritize her life over work did not represent professional negligence.
“Given the circumstances under which the Great East Japan Earthquake and Fukushima No. 1 plant’s nuclear accident took place, it is absolutely impossible to criticize as irresponsible her decision to evacuate abroad to protect her life,” the ruling said.
Although lauding those who remained at work with the public broadcaster following the disasters, the court said NHK “cannot contractually obligate people to show such excessive allegiance” to the company.
Bodin’s attorneys said it is not clear how the ruling will affect similar cases, if any, that involve non-Japanese often labeled as “flyjin,” a play on the word gaijin (foreigner), who missed work because they fled the disaster.
“My pursuit of justice has finally been vindicated,” Bodin, 58, told a news conference in Tokyo.
“Today, we are reminded once again that it is the responsibility of a company, regardless of how powerful an organization it is, to take good care of its employees and treat them with fairness and compassion,” she said in Japanese.
The court ordered NHK to pay her ¥5.14 million in unpaid salary that she would have received had she been allowed to renew her contract for the following fiscal year.
Bodin, who worked as an anchor and translator for NHK radio programs for more than 20 years, fled Japan in the immediate aftermath of the Fukushima crisis in accordance with an instruction issued by the French government to evacuate the country.
Prior to departing on March 15, 2011, Bodin asked her colleague, a veteran French anchorman in his 70s, to substitute for her while she was away to ensure her absence would cause no major trouble for the company.
She then called a superior in her radio news section notifying the person that she was temporarily leaving the country but would return by the end of the month and that she had arranged for her colleague to cover her shifts. The manager responded by giving approval, according to the ruling.
A week after that, NHK sent Bodin a letter notifying her that her contract would shortly be discontinued, providing no detailed explanations as to why.
The terse letter only reminded her of abstract provisions of her contract that stipulate employees can be sacked if “the circumstances demanded so” or if their work performance is deemed “so inadequate it has no sign of improvement.”
Over the course of the nearly three-year-long trial, NHK squarely contradicted Bodin’s claim, even going so far as to say that she did not call her French colleague in the first place, according to her lawyers. It also said Bodin’s call with her superior lasted just 20 to 30 seconds, and that in it she had “unilaterally” conveyed her intention to skip her anchoring duty scheduled for hours later and promptly hung up. The French colleague also testified in favor of NHK, claiming that he had received no such call from her.
However, her phone records, presented to the court by her lawyers, clearly showed she had spoken both to the colleague and her superior for more than five and two minutes, respectively, Bodin’s lawyers said.