'Lioness' lost job playing for Kenya team in Dubai

Naomi Kemunto Amaguna (with the ball). [Kipsang Joseph, Standard]

A female rugby player lost her job for representing Kenya in a rugby tournament.

 The details of how loyalty to the country can be a costly affair are contained in a court judgment in which Naomi Kemunto lost her case against Mater Hospital.

 Employment and Labour Relations Court Judge Linnet Ndolo said the Kenya Lionesses player did not give evidence to show the hospital management had granted her permission to represent the country in a rugby tournament in Dubai.

 “It follows that the petitioner did not adduce any evidence to demonstrate that she was authorised to be absent from work. Her absence therefore constituted a valid reason for termination of her employment,” said Justice Ndolo.

 Naomi Kemunto was fired on December 28, 2022, shortly after she reported back to work from the tournament.

 She was told to explain why disciplinary action should not be taken against her for her absenteeism.

 Kemunto presented screenshots of her communication with the Sports Cabinet Secretary (CS) who helped her secure a travelling visa for the tournament.

 Kemunto said she had reached out to the CS after the facility denied her leave to represent the country, which came after the expiry of a six-month unpaid sabbatical leave that she had taken.

 At the same time, Kemunto said her troubles with the facility began after taking a sabbatical to travel to the US on December 2, 2021.

 In December, Kemunto who is part of the National Kenya Women 7-aside team (Kenya Lionesses), was selected to represent Kenya in an international tournament in Dubai.

 She narrated that Mater tested her for Covid-19 on December 1, 2021, and was granted a certificate showing that she tested negative for the virus. She then uploaded the certificate to the traveller’s portal.

 The following day while at the check-in counter at the Jomo Kenyatta International Airport (JKIA), she was notified by travel officials that she could not travel since her certificate had errors. Kemunto said she contacted the hospital which acknowledged the error and sent a rectified one via email and she was allowed to travel.

 However, she said she could not upload the correct certificate since she was unable to delete the certificate with errors.

 She told the court she was arrested at the Los Angeles Airport in the US after officials pointed out the uploaded certificate had errors.

 The court heard that despite offering an explanation of what happened at JKIA, she was detained and investigated for making and presenting a forged Covid-19 certificate to border officials, lying to border officials and attempting to enter the US with missing Covid-19 test results.

 She was detained at the airport cell for three days, her five-year US visa was cancelled and was deported back to Kenya after being forced to undergo another test at a cost of Sh15,250 which turned out negative.

 After her deportation, Kemunto said she notified her employer and requested the hospital via email to hire an attorney in the US to appeal her Visa cancellation but she said that she was ignored.

 Kemunto went ahead to hire a lawyer to engage the hospital. Her lawyer wrote to the hospital on January 13, 2022, asking the facility to cover her legal expenses over the visa appeal.

 She said the hospital wrote back saying that she should express her concerns to the hospital directly, present documentary evidence of her accusations and utilise internal mechanisms.

 When she resumed work after her sabbatical leave days lapsed, she claimed that she was received with hostility by her superiors.

 She argued that her termination was not fair since the Mater CEO did not deny communicating with the Sports CS over her travel.

 But the hospital through an affidavit sworn by Mater’s in-house counsel Evelyn Maina, admitted that the certificate given to Kemunto had errors but that she did not exercise due diligence by scrutinising it.

 Ms Maina said Kemunto absconded duty and the facility was justified in issuing a show cause letter.

 She said that the hospital followed the process of terminating her contract and that her December 2022 salary was delayed because she had not cleared yet as is the norm.

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