In another part of Hong Kong, a young English lady was preparing herself for an event that would either change her life completely or solve a very big problem.
Paula Whitby was about to attend the Wanchai District Court to hear the verdict of the judge in the case against her for breach of contract. The case had been brought against her by a former employer, an Australian man called Baker who owned an employment agency. She had worked for him for just 13 months and his foul temper and general lack of manners had eventually alienated her.
She resigned, giving one month’s notice and returned the next day to find that she had been barred from entering the office. A member of staff had handed her a plastic shopping bag with her belongings and a letter which informed her that she had been summarily dismissed for bad behaviour in the office with other members of the staff!
Paula had gone down to a nearby coffee shop and read the letter over and over again. Anger, frustration and fear all surged through her trembling body. She would have her revenge, she thought, but then common sense prevailed. Survival came first. She had to find a job very quickly or she would be in serious financial difficulties. She had some savings but they wouldn’t last long. Hong Kong was not a place that was forgiving to the unemployed. When her hands had stopped shaking she called a colleague in another employment agency and miraculously, within three days she was working for the company.
What she had completely forgotten was the small matter of the Non-Compete Clause in the contract she had signed with Baker. When word got around that Paula was working for a competitor he first reminded her of her contract and then outright threatened her with legal action. Paula sought the advice of a solicitor who assured her that the courts in Hong Kong would not uphold any such clause. Paula got on with her life and forgot all about the threat until one day, about six months later, Baker walked into her office in the company of a tall cadaverous individual who turned out to be his solicitor and handed her a writ. She was being sued for breach of contract.
After a good show of bravado in the face of Baker, the fear set in. Her new employers, a husband and wife team who had welcomed her into their company, knowing her recent history were supportive from the outset. They knew Baker and had no liking for the man. They offered advice and helped her through the initial stages of preparing her defence. Mike, the husband, even went so far as to seek the advice of a barrister that did pro-bono work and that gentleman gave Paula a number of cases undertaken in Hong Kong where the courts had thrown out the action on the grounds that the clause was too wide-reaching and they were reluctant to prevent the defendant from earning a living. Heartened, Paula spent every free moment preparing her case, she would defend herself.
At the first hearing Lansard, Baker’s solicitor presented the contract and informed the court that it was an open and shut case. The defendant had signed the contract and acted in breach of it. Therefore she was liable to pay Baker damages in the sum of $5,000,000 plus costs.
The judge, a fairly young judge by the name of Simon Lee, however, was not quite so eager to condemn Paula and asked, in a very gentle manner whether she could afford a solicitor. When she answered no he made the order that Paula was to be given a period of not less than six weeks in order to prepare her defence.
Despite Lansard’s objection, the order was passed and for the next 42 days, Paula spent every free moment of her time honing her defence. She was helped by Mike and his wife, Sandy and between the three of them, they prepared a rebuttal that stunned even Lansard, who had been convinced there would be no defence to his brilliant presentation.
At the next hearing, Paula presented printed copies of her statement to both the court and Lansard and asked permission from the judge to read it aloud. The reading was interrupted on occasion by questions from the judge and when she was finally finished, she thanked the court for its time and sat down. Judge Lee then asked Lansard if he had anything to say before he made a decision. Lansard asked for an adjournment in order to consult his client, which, in the interests of fairness was granted. Lansard and Baker left the court and Paula gave them a moment to get out of the way before she left in the company of Mike and Sandy. Despite the stress of the situation and the adverse results that might arise if the judge did not accept her comments, she was strangely at peace with herself.
Then Mike motioned to her left. Lansard was approaching them.
“Miss Whitby, I wonder if you would be willing to meet with my client.” Said Lansard. “There is a proposal that we would like to make that might save us all a great deal of time, and money,” he added as an afterthought.
Paula saw Sandy place her hand on Mike’s arm. Whatever was said had to come from Paula.
Paula looked up at Lansard, for the first time she noticed just how cadaverous he was. The skin between his collar and chin appeared greasy as it coated with some gel. A whiff of deodorant assailed her. The man was absolutely reeking with it. She looked down at his hands and saw that his fingernails were varnished, his skin was pale and cheesy looking. The thought occurred to her that if she shook hands with him she’d spend the next six hours washing them with a strong detergent.
Mike noticed her pause and stepped in.
“If Miss Whitby wishes to meet with your client we must insist on accompanying her”.
Lansard looked at Mike with ill-concealed dislike.
“I think perhaps that is Miss Whitby’s decision”.
“No,” said Paula. “Mr. Williams is correct,” she said referring to Mike. “Anything Baker wants to say he can say in front of my friends.”
Lansard paused for a moment and then nodded. He returned to where Baker was waiting and Paula noticed that the arrogant smile he usually wore faded rapidly. Lansard spoke quietly to him and they had a muttered conversation before approaching Paula and her friends.
Without any preamble, Lansard said, “My client would like to offer you a deal”. Without waiting to hear if Paula was interested or not he continued. “My client will accept a settlement in the sum of $250,000 in place of the 5,000,000 he has demanded in damages plus costs”.
Later, Paula would run the conversation over and over again in her mind. But, she didn’t hesitate with her answer. She looked directly at Baker and said,
“Fuck off, Baker”.
The expression on Baker’s face never changed but Lansard went even paler. Paula wondered if perhaps he had a vested interest at stake in the proceedings, not the least of which was his fees.
“I think you should at least……,” he began but by then Paula had picked up her handbag and files and in the company of Mike and Sandy returned to the courtroom.
(c) Copyright John Stewart Sloan – 2017 – Not for Distribution
The Featured photo is by Mark Dumont – Flickr: There Be Dragons, CC BY 2.0, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=25935468