Equal Opportunities Commission (EOC)

Former Hong Kong EOC official loses gratuity fee in retrial over comments against same-sex marriage

Tribunal finds Josiah Chok Kin-ming in breach of employment terms in his failure to declare conflict of interest

PUBLISHED : Thursday, 28 September, 2017, 8:24pm
UPDATED : Thursday, 28 September, 2017, 10:23pm

A former top official of Hong Kong’s equality watchdog lost his gratuity payment of HK$867,000 after the Labour Tribunal found on Thursday he should not be ­entitled to the claim following his comments against same-sex marriage.

Josiah Chok Kin-ming was further ordered to pay HK$9,842.50 in legal costs to the Equal Opportunities Commission. The case was a retrial, as the commission had won an appeal against an earlier ruling awarding Chok the gratuity. It then brought the matter back to the tribunal.

The commission welcomed the ruling, and said in a statement that it respected its employees’ freedom of speech but that they were required to declare any conflicts of interest if they were involved in activities in direct opposition to their work.

Equality official harmed credibility of watchdog with church comments, says EOC chief

But the legal battle may continue as Chok has vowed to appeal, claiming the tribunal ­sided with his former employer.

The dispute centred on comments he made at a forum on discrimination laws and same-sex marriage, organised by his church in August 2014, while he was chief equal opportunities officer.

The commission at the time was holding a public consultation on a review of discrimination laws, and Chok had volunteered to join a task force on the matter.

But without telling the commission, he spoke against same-sex marriage at the church forum and taught attendees how to oppose the reform. “I cannot see a single reason to offer support,” Chok was recorded as saying.

His comments drew backlash from the LGBT community and its supporters, prompting the commission to issue a statement distancing itself from his stance.

Chok left the commission after his contract was terminated following 18 years of service. Dr Chow Yat-ngok, then chairman of the commission, refused his gratuity after concluding from legal advice that Chok did not satisfactorily fulfil employment terms.

Chok took the commission to the tribunal and argued the decision was unconstitutional as it breached his freedom of speech. He also claimed the commission was prying into his private life when he had attended a closed event in his personal capacity.

Chok won HK$867,021.25 from the tribunal’s ruling in 2015. But the commission appealed and convinced the High Court in March this year to send the case back to the tribunal.

Following the retrial, presiding officer Jacqueline Lee noted there were limits to freedoms enjoyed by public officers, whose conduct had to comply with the faithful discharge of their duties.

Lee found Chok had broken the commission’s code of conduct when he talked about issues that were of conflict of interest, without telling his superiors.

“The tribunal finds Chow’s decision is one any reasonable employer would make,” she said.