Interesting lawsuits: French “Flyjin” sues employer NHK for firing her during Fukushima Crisis, 8 US sailors sue TEPCO for lying about radiation dangers


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Hi Blog.  Here’s a couple of interesting lawsuits in the pipeline:  A French woman being fired from NHK (despite 20 years working there) apparently for leaving Japan during the Fukushima crisis, and eight US Navy sailors suing TEPCO (from overseas) for lying about nuclear fallout dangers and exposing them to radiation.

No matter what you think about the act of litigation (and there are always those, such as House Gaijin Gregory Clark or tarento Daniel Kahl (see Komisarof, “At Home Abroad”, p. 100) who decry anything a NJ does in court, saying “they’re suing at the drop of a hat like the litigious Westerners they are” — even though millions of Japanese in Japan sue every year), these cases have the potential to reveal something interesting:  1) Blowing the lid off the Flyjin Myth of “fickle NJ leaving their work stations” once again, this time in the Japanese judiciary; and 2) showing whether international effects of GOJ negligence (and irradiating the food chain both domestically and internationally counts as such) is something that can be legally actionable from afar.

Anyway, power to them.  I doubt the outcome of these cases will appear much in the J media, so keep an eye out for their potential appearance in the English-language media when the decisions get handed down within the next year or two.  Arudou Debito


French woman who fled during nuclear crisis sues NHK for firing her
January 16, 2013 (Mainichi Japan), courtesy of JK

TOKYO (Kyodo) — A French woman on Tuesday sued public broadcaster Japan Broadcasting Corp., or NHK, for dismissing her after she left Japan in response to a French government warning issued during the Fukushima nuclear crisis.

Emmanuelle Bodin, 55, who had engaged in translation and radio work, said in a complaint filed with the Tokyo District Court that she had told her boss that she would return to work on March 30, 2011, but received a termination letter on March 22.

Two days after the earthquake-tsunami disaster triggered the accident at the Fukushima Daiichi plant on March 11 that year, the French government advised its citizens to leave the Tokyo area.

Bodin, who is demanding her dismissal be rescinded and damages be paid, had worked at NHK for over 20 years as a contract staffer, renewing her contract every year, according to the complaint. She said in a news conference no other employee in the French language section who left Tokyo at the time was fired.

NHK said the termination of her contract was not made in an unfair manner but refrained from elaborating on reasons for the dismissal.


The Japan Times, Friday, Dec. 28, 2012

Eight U.S. sailors sue Tepco for millions for falsely downplaying Fukushima radiation exposure

Bloomberg — Tokyo Electric Power Co. is being sued for tens of millions of dollars by eight U.S. Navy sailors who claim that they were unwittingly exposed to radiation from the Fukushima No. 1 nuclear plant meltdowns and that Tepco lied about the dangers.

The sailors aboard the nuclear-powered aircraft carrier USS Ronald Reagan were involved in the Operation Tomodachi disaster relief operations following the March 11, 2011, earthquake and tsunami that devastated the Tohoku region and led to the nuclear catastrophe, according to their complaint filed in U.S. federal court in San Diego on Dec. 21.

Tepco and the Japanese government conspired to create the false impression that radiation leaking from the Fukushima No. 1 plant didn’t pose a threat to the sailors, according to the complaint. As a result, the plaintiffs rushed to areas that were unsafe and too close to the facility, exposing them to radiation, their lawyers said.

The Japanese government was “lying through their teeth about the reactor meltdown” crisis, as it reassured the USS Reagan crew that “everything is under control,” the plaintiffs’ lawyers said in the complaint. “The plaintiffs must now endure a lifetime of radiation poisoning and suffering.”

The sailors are each seeking $10 million in damages, $30 million in punitive damages and a judgment requiring the creation of a $100 million fund to pay for their medical monitoring and treatments.

“We can’t comment as we have not received the complaint document yet,” Yusuke Kunikage, a Tepco spokesman, said Thursday. “We will consider a response after examining the claim.”

In July, the Nuclear Damage Liability Facilitation Fund took control of Tepco in return for a ¥1 trillion capital injection after the disaster left the utility on the brink of bankruptcy. The utility received ¥1.4 trillion in state funds to compensate those affected by the disaster.


22 comments on “Interesting lawsuits: French “Flyjin” sues employer NHK for firing her during Fukushima Crisis, 8 US sailors sue TEPCO for lying about radiation dangers

  • In regards to the unfortunate French lady, as somebody who works with contracted employees at domestic firms on a daily basis (although, full disclosure, NHK is not on our client list) I can say that while underhanded, that sort of behavior is not unusual.

    A 55-year-old is far more expensive than a 25-year-old, and if her job performance left no excuses to cancel (or, in the usual pattern, simply not renew) her contract then “disappearing from work for several weeks,” regardless of the reason is a sadly very “easy out” for NHK.

    I certainly don’t condone their behavior, in fact I find the muscling out of senior contracted staff to be morally unsound and usually a poor business decision as well (better to make it clear upon a “final” renewal that they will be training their replacement that year), but in this particular case I don’t think this is racial discrimination so much as classically underhanded Japanese worker exploitation.
    ….not that that comes as a great comfort.

    Again, without knowing the details of her contract it is impossible to know for certain.
    She has my sympathy, and hopefully she can utilize any connections she has with freelance videographers there to try and get the word out about what has happened to her.

    — I can’t see above where anyone claimed this was “racial discrimination”, so let’s stay focused.

  • Loverilakkuma says:

    I just read the JT article about the story of a French employee. The fact that NHK kept hiring her as an annual contract worker for over 20 years clicks me something suspicious. It smells like a rat, I mean, some sort of employment discrimination by race or nationality. I have never put NHK off my radar since they have a pretty nasty history of media fabrication (i.e., distorting historical accounts of comfort women in the 2001 ETV documentary). But it’s under speculation right now, and any point or argument I (or we) make here is now up for grabs until further information assists us in further deliberation and critical judgment on cross-cultural difference regarding the system of Tort Law.

  • Just shows the complete inflexibility of the Japanese Govt and NHK as despite the scale of the disaster, they make no exceptions at all in the light of unusual circumstances. Visas voided in that fateful week of 3/11 were not exempted from their usual longwinded application procedure.

    Actually I was reading a the novelization of Ïndependence Day” and it was surprisingly insightful;

    “The Japanese, more than anyone, continued to go about their work as usual. That was why their casualties were the highest”.

    Reasons do not matter, only their rules.

  • The fact that NHK kept hiring her on a one year contract for over 20 years means that she is in effect a permanent employee, and the court will be sure to recognise that fact. Note that they did not simply refuse to renew the contract, but actually terminated her, and did so under a clause in the contract about poor performance. I would think that NHK will be fighting an uphill battle here, because this kind of termination usually requires several formal warnings and a failure to improve, while this was clearly a one-off incident. Expect a confidential settlement not far down the track.

  • Debito,

    Just a quick word of caution on the link you provided about “irradiating the food chain”. The author here doesn’t seem to understand the results of the study she’s reporting on. Take, for example, the very first sentence, which states that “a new German study reports that North America’s West Coast will be the area most contaminated by Fukushima cesium of all regions in Pacific in 10 years, an “order-of-magnitude higher” than waters off Japan”. That is not what the German study concluded. She then says, “New study indicates severe West Coast impact”. Also, not what the study says. Then she says that the Fukushima disaster would result in “doubling radioactivity of US coastal waters, according to simulations carried out by the German oceanographers”. This, at least has a hair of truth in it, but only if “radioactivity” means only Cs-137 and no other radioactivity. By way of comparison, typical ocean water contains about 40 mBq/L of U-238 and 12,000 mBq/L of K-40, among other nuclides; this study predicts a peak amount of 1 mBq/L of Cs-137 from Fukushima off Baja after 7 years.

    In other words, there is a ton of bad “science reporting” out there, so be careful!

    — Okay, thanks. I was referring to the map of the Pacific Ocean foremost.

  • All this talk of repeated contracts implying a permanent position seems rather naive. They are standard practice in some Govt agencies (like where I am employed, the name is JAMSTEC) and the employees have absolutely no come-back against termination. Even if it was illegal, good luck on any practical redress. Admittedly, this particular situation of a sacking mid-contract might be a special case, but even then, I’d bet dollars to doughnuts that she would only get a pittance relating to the remaining contract duration (of literally days, assuming a standard financial year period).

    — Maybe true in practice for NJ, but not for Japanese. Read up on The Employment Rights of Repeatedly Renewed Private Sector Contract Workers by Steve van Dresser.

  • Baudrillard: “Just shows the complete inflexibility of the Japanese Govt and NHK as despite the scale of the disaster, they make no exceptions at all in the light of unusual circumstances.”

    From the Japan Times article (which provides a good deal more information than the Mainichi article):
    “[Bodin] also said eight other workers in her section fled Japan but all were allowed back to work.
    “I don’t really know the reason why I was pinpointed like this,” Bodin said.”

    So obviously exceptions, toward one side or the other, were made.

    — Thanks for this.

    The Japan Times, Wednesday, Jan. 16, 2013
    Frenchwoman fired for leaving Japan during nuclear crisis sues NHK
    By KAZUAKI NAGATA Staff writer

    A Frenchwoman dismissed by NHK filed a lawsuit Tuesday against the public broadcaster, claiming her radio announcer contract was unjustly terminated after she temporarily fled Japan at the start of the nuclear crisis at the Fukushima No. 1 power plant in March 2011.

    Emmanuelle Bodin, who had worked for NHK more than two decades, said she received permission from a superior to leave Japan with her two daughters on March 15, 2011, following an instruction by the French government for French nationals to evacuate.

    Bodin told NHK that she would be back by March 30, 2011, but was notified by a letter dated March 22, 2011, that the broadcaster was terminating her yearly contract, saying she “walked off” her job.

    “In order to protect my family, I decided to temporarily leave Tokyo. . . . Prior to my departure I followed the required NHK work procedures, which included obtaining permission from my management,” Bodin said in Tokyo at the Foreign Correspondents’ Club of Japan, where she and one of her lawyers, Kazuyuki Azusawa, held a news conference.

    “I have faithfully served NHK for the past 21 years. I was very proud to work for such a prestigious organization,” she said.

    Bodin is seeking her job back and ¥22.17 million in damages.

    She started working at NHK in 1990 as an announcer for the French section of Radio Japan. She was on a yearly contract and said NHK had renewed her contract in February 2011.

    Her lawyers said provisions of the contract say NHK can terminate the deal if the employee’s inadequate work performance has no prospect for improvement or if a situation occurs in which the firm has no choice but to end the contract. NHK told Bodin that its reasons for terminating her contract were based on these provisions.

    According to the lawsuit, NHK claims it canceled her contract because she called and told NHK she couldn’t come in to work in a unilateral manner and caused trouble for the company.

    Bodin was scheduled to work that March 15, but she asked a colleague to cover her shift and the program was aired without problems, her lawyers said.

    She also said eight other workers in her section fled Japan but all were allowed back to work.

    “I don’t really know the reason why I was pinpointed like this,” Bodin said.

    An NHK spokesman said other foreign contractors had notified NHK at least a day in advance, while Bodin waited until 3½ hours before her program.

    Because of the turmoil in the wake of the earthquake and tsunami, it was likely to be difficult to find someone to cover her shift, and Bodin, who had more than 20 years of experience, should have known how canceling out on short notice would cause serious trouble, the spokesman said.

    Her lawyers also said that considering the severe situation of the Fukushima crisis at that stage, even if Bodin had really walked off the job without permission, she would deserve a chance to come back, especially because she had been a dedicated worker for many years.

    The NHK spokesman refused to elaborate on this point, saying the details will be discussed in court.

  • Debito,

    Ah, they are cleverer than that these days. We don’t just get renewed each year, we have to go through a formal job application process every 5 years. Mostly this has been pure kabuki, but last year the new director decided that he should not give all of us our jobs back, just to “prove” it was all kosher. So he picked on a couple of people to fire – they didn’t actually end up unemployed, but instead got shuffled off to friendly research labs close by. They’ll likely be back again in a year or two as “new recruits”. It’s completely idiotic because the lab still has trouble recruiting enough people (at least, decent people) to fill the posts available.

  • Loverilakkuma says:

    It’s despicable to see some companies using 3/11 as an excuse to abuse their rules on employment contract and target particular employees for their dismissal. I read a story about a Fujitsu employee who took his own life at his home because his American boss left Japan the next day after the earthquake. The article doesn’t blame his boss on the incident, but it sure gives people an impression that NJ workerds are traitors. Is that his boss’ fault? No. That’s company’s failure as business. They could have at least sent a substitute to fill in the position to ensure that the employee wouldn’t have to work for +16 hours/day.

  • @James Annan – It’s not naive, it’s the law. NJ have exactly the same recourse as Japanese employees in this case. Hire a lawyer and sue. Sure it happens all the time, and employers may get away with it for years, but every so often someone stands up and decides to enforce their rights, as Ms. Bodin is doing here. Your employer’s game of “kabuki” renewals may help him a little to delay the deeming of a permanent contract, but not if you have been there long term already. Starting from April this year, there will be a total 5 year limit placed on fixed term contracts (including renewals) after which the employee can demand permanent employment. Unfortunately the clock doesn’t start ticking until April, so you will have to wait until 2018 to enforce the time limit, but if you have been renewed more than about 4 or 5 times already, I would say you have a very good chance of claiming permanent employment should your boss ever decide that your number is up, even if he says that it is not a termination, just a non-renewal of your contract. Unfortunately, most employers won’t take you seriously unless you go through a lawyer. Anyone in this situation needs to get legal counsel and start serving it back to the employer, or they will get walked all over, and nothing will ever change.

  • Giantpanda – Interesting to hear about this new “5 year limit placed on fixed term contracts.” Although I doubt that this will slip by the accounting/legal departments at the larger schools, universities and companies. They will lay you off for a year before having to submit to permanent employment.

    There are other ways to circumvent this as well. Such as hiring people under a different category.

  • GP, well it’s not impossible you are right. They have always been very careful to claim that each 5y is a separate, time-limited job. I’m not interested in testing this in law as it would be far easier and more productive just to get a job somewhere else!

    Curious, rest assured that plans will be well in hand at all such contract-based employers. The law states that a 6 month interval is required for work to not count as continuous, and mine is actually planning to implement this, which they euphemistically refer to as a “cooling off period”! The bureaucrats who run the place haven’t yet realised that this plan is completely insane because highly qualified and employable scientists will simply get jobs elsewhere. But let’s face it, they didn’t get to where they are by being clever….

  • Loverilakkuma says:

    I checked out the new labor contract law passed in August 2012. It looks like the new law will become effective on April 1, 2013. But there’s every reason to become skeptical of its effectiveness, since many of us witness the records of employer’s ill treatment of contract workers (both Japanese & non-Japanese) and government’s inaction to outsourcing/sub-contracting business(haken/ukeoi-gyo-mu) in the past ten years. There are a lot of legal loopholes that employers will likely use to take advantage of limitations set for part-time and contract workers. Like James Annan says, it’s quite likely to see some university employers forcing NJ workers to put in ‘cooling-off period’ as a labor scheme to claim exemption from the 5-year-cap rule on non-permanent employment. Especially those who are in 4th or 5th year contract—this means that their contract renewal will reach the cap before or at the end of March 31, 2013– will likely fall into this crack. Also, there’s no guarantee for those who get permanent employment after fulfilling 5 years on a limited contract will get promoted as regular employees (seishain) and received exactly the same employment benefits as regular Japanese workers, especially when you are in the workplace where your employer is outsourcing the workers and staff to conduct business on a regular basis—such as manufacturing, construction, transportation businesses, and teaching English/foreign language.

    See the link from General Union Website below:

  • Just to clarify, in our case some Japanese workers are being treated just as poorly as NJ. (At least, in respect of the contract situation). Eg, it was two Japanese researchers who got “transferred” to other labs last year.

    JAMSTEC is actually trying to quickly scribble out new 4+y contracts for us, to start just before the 1st April, in order that the tenure clock won’t even have to start ticking until 2017 (since the law is not retrospective and only applies to *new* contracts). The current situation is that we are employed on 1y contracts which are renewed more or less automatically every year, up to a limit of 5, meaning the next one would start the 5y clock. That is, they are shamelessly doing their best to evade implementing the law for as long as possible. Remember, this is a major research agency, directly under govt control, so we can assume this is an officially-approved approach. I have told them quite openly that I think it’s disgusting to treat staff in this way, but the middle managers just wring their hands and say there is nothing they can do, and everyone else just keeps their heads down, of course.

  • I wonder whether many of the readers understand that any kind of labor or employment litigation involving the Japanese can take years and years. It’s part of the culture, to try and just wear down the person who is standing up against being cheated. They didn’t sue for peace after Midway, so this should come as no surprise. But I’m amazed that people will just talk so naively about litigations and settlements.

    What James is describing is closer to the kind of environment that you may face while working in Japan. Someone in the shadows tries to arrange matters—using a lot of paper and an expectations game—to prevent you from EASILY getting what is your just due under Japanese law. As I say, the Japanese do a lot of crafty things with paper, and I don’t just mean origami. In James’ example, they are trying to set up the game for 2018 AND set up some kind of precedent where the NJ (foreigners) are treated one way, and the Japanese another.

    In the matter involving the French woman above, it looks like she came under the “repeated renewals” safe harbor for regular employment. And probably–if she were a Japanese–that’s how NHK would be looking at it. But what’s going to be emphasized by her opposition is that the regular employment was never “recognized” (as if the law requires that, which it doesn’t). Also, that she departed on short notice on the advice of her government (as if she has no meritworthy duty back to her fellow French, who would have been obligated to get her out of harm’s way, if harm had actually come that way in the March 2011 crisis.)

    When I start seeing NJ (foreigners) automatically enrolled in pension and health care, and accorded—as a matter of course—the same labor protections as what the Japanese naturally recognize among themselves, then I’ll say that these type litigations are something a little extraordinary and not the best way to go. Until then, they really are a necessity. But ones that go on and on . . .

  • Thanks @JA for acknowledging “it’s not impossible” I may be right. Well, without revealing too much, I do this for a living, and charge by the hour. My clients would be awfully disappointed (and would likely sue me) if I were wrong. I’m not surprised at the various arrangements your employer is making – they are almost certainly doing this on legal advice. However, nothing is certain in this area. I do not think that this whole fiction of “new contracts” and transfers would stop any employee from having a “red hot go” against the employer should they be terminated. It may also be possible to get the Labour Bureau involved, since it would be acutely embarrassing to see government departments actively undermining the government’s policy objective of discouraging the abuse of fixed term contracts.

    I’m also very interested by the trend of employees such as Ms Bodin going to the press with their claims (look up Rina Bovrisse for another example of media use by an employee plaintiff). However, this can be a double-edged sword. While it can apply pressure on NHK to reach a quick settlement and get their name out of the papers, it could also dissuade NHK from settling for anything less than a judgment in their favour, because their public reputation is now on the line.

    @Hoofin, your description of labour & employment litigation taking years and years only applies to a tiny minority of cases – yes, these are pretty much the only cases that get reported in the media. As anyone with experience of the Japanese legal system would know, settlements are strongly encouraged, and almost foisted upon you. Many claims settle before even reaching the court steps. Another 80+% settle in the course of the first proceeding (which takes an average of 2 months). The numbers are whittled down again due to pressure to settle in the course of an appeal. It would take an exceptionally determined plaintiff, and an exceptionally obtuse defendant, to make it to the judgement stage of an appeal. The statistics overwhelmingly indicate that an employee that raises a claim will be paid off in the form of a settlement.

  • @GiantPanda, I agree with you that many employment claims settle. I am not persuaded (in general, from talking to others) that foreigners in Japan participate in the same ratio in these settlements. In fact, I’m more convinced that foreigners are the kind of people targeted for the “wait out the clock” treatment. The Japanese employer knows that, without the steady job, the more likely it is that the foreigner will have to leave Japan. (Good luck maintaining a lawsuit from 6,000 miles away, then.)

    You are right also that the various settlements which occur along the way don’t get reported in the media. Any number of these have a confidentiality provision written in, which makes it difficult to determine whether the foreign employee got the shaft in terms of money.

    There really is no hard data about these incidents and settlements. I think that dragging out the litigations is designed, in part, to push people toward cheap settlements.

  • Debito @ #5,

    Not a problem. I just cringe anytime I see articles, like that one, that so horribly mangle the scientific analysis and spread misinformation (“baseless rumors”, as it were). Here’s the original study:, which was well-done and includes similar maps, if you would prefer to link to the real thing.

  • Apropos of Fukushima-related dissemination of information, have a look at this, courtesy of MB:

    “My 3-11 – Voluntary Interviewee for the program

    ON AIR:
    March 2013

    NHK is seeking to interview those who had experienced The 2011 Great Tohoku, Japan Earthquake & Tsunami while living in Japan. They will film your unique perspective and experience on the disaster, and it impacted your life in Japan. The interview will take place for the special documentary program in February to be aired in March.

    Please write your 3-11 experience in your cover letter
    Currently reside in Japan (Preferred for the interview)
    Those who previously posted your earthquake experience on GaijinPot

    **** My 3.11 memory *****
    “That night I walked home with what seemed like every other person in Tokyo. My abiding memory of that walk was the good spirits, friendly nature and calm resolve to get home shared by everybody.

    I was working as the editor of a news website when the earthquake first struck. It had been an almost stereotypical slow news day when the office started to shake, then shook some more, and then kept shaking. That convinced us to prepare to leave. I had just enough time to write a one-sentence bulletin on a large earthquake being felt in Tokyo before having to leave….

    ***** What did I get / learn from your experience of 3-11? *****
    I had my first sense of wide scale failure on 3.11 and the immediate aftermath. Authorities, some individuals and technology all cracked in some way. But I learnt how to conquer fears in a scenario such as that, how to deal with systematic failures around you and how to buck up and keep smiling.”

    Some of examples in the above link;
    – British Photographer, living in Saitama
    – Software engineer, Pakistani
    – Margarita, Swedish, Female, Fukushima
    – Canadian, Chiba-ken, Male, English teacher
    – Japanese-Egyptian
    – Juliet M, Koriyama ,Fukushima, English Teacher
    – United States, Ibaraki, Female, Assistant Language Teacher
    – ALT American, in Kamaishi, Iwate
    …and many other contributors.

    Although NHK is only able to interview a small number of listed applicants, we appreciate your willingness to share your experiences and we will read (and possibly consider airing) no matter if you are selected as an interviewee or not.”

  • @Debito (#19), how convenient that they give you a pre-made, “wa”-stressing example of what you should write. I understand that Japanese-style documentaries are almost exclusively not real, but scripted reality along these lines. The truth has to be hidden, unless it exactly fits the bigger scheme, I guess.
    It kind of makes me want to submit an sarcastic entry like, “On 11/3 I was living the sweet gaijin life, getting drunk, doing drugs, and french kissing frozen tuna in Tsukiji, when suddenly the earth started to shake. Of course, I was completely freaked out by it because I am not as used to it as the noble Japanese. When the shaking got really strong I switched on CNN, which by the way is owned by the Chinese and therefore totally Anti-Japanese. I saw the Tsunami hitting Tohoku and realized that this might have be ‘The Big One’. So I did what all we Gaijin came to Japan to do: Go out onto the street to riot and loot, and try to overthrow the Emperor. I made it to Shinjuku and met an old, but really genki man on the street who seemed to suffer from really dry eyes. I was so impressed and intimidated by his antics that I gave up all my evil plans, and spent the rest of the day marveling at ‘the good spirits, friendly nature and calm resolve to get home shared by everybody.’

  • Debito,

    Here’s a link to the sailor’s complaint (!/menu/standard/file/TEPCO_COMPLAINT.pdf), which makes for some interesting reading–just be sure to wear your tinfoil hat. Lots of gems in the text and footnotes, but my absolute favorite has to be clause 39, which begins “Radiation does not readily break down”–this, of course, is by definition what radiation does and why it’s dangerous! All told, the complaint demonstrates a breathtaking lack of understanding of the issues involved, which should be no surprise given that it relies upon such bastions of unreliable information and analysis as, fukushima-diary, and enenews (see footnote 8). Looking forward to seeing what the court does with this.

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