A former executive director of Amnesty International Japan has sued the human rights organization for ¥5 million ($47,500), claiming unfair dismissal after he was diagnosed with depression that stemmed from being forced to give reports in Japanese, sources familiar with the case said Tuesday.
According to the complaint filed with the Tokyo District Court, Taro O’Sullivan said the organization hired him with the knowledge that he could speak Japanese at a conversational level but could barely read or write it.
The 62-year-old American is also seeking to have his dismissal overturned and has filed for damages against the Tokyo-based organization and Kaori Shoji, a professor at Gakushuin University in Tokyo who was the organization’s chair at the time.
Amnesty International Japan said the board of directors acted appropriately.
“I would like to establish the truth through this trial,” Shoji said.
O’Sullivan, whose mother is Japanese, joined the organization in March 2017 after completing his tenure as the executive director of a major North American labor federation in Los Angeles.
He was to be formally employed after completing a six-month probation, but during that period a requirement was added that reports and presentations were to be given in Japanese.
While emails between O’Sullivan and the board of directors were initially translated by Shoji, he was later forced to communicate in Japanese by himself.
O’Sullivan’s employment contract also stated that his position had wide-ranging authority, which included hiring staff. But as articles of incorporation, written in Japanese, state that the board of directors possessed authority over personnel management, Shoji stopped a new hire that O’Sullivan attempted to make.
O’Sullivan became unable to work due to ill health and was diagnosed with depression in September 2017.
He was notified by Amnesty International Japan later in the same month that his contract had been terminated, with his working attitude cited among the reasons.
Amnesty International, a nongovernmental organization focused on ending abuses of human rights, was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize in 1977.
O’Sullivan was the first non-Japanese citizen to have been appointed as executive director of the Japanese branch, which opened in 1970.
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