A computer company has been ordered to pay R60 000 damages to a former employee after it was found it did not adequately address her complaints of sexual harassment by a superior.
The woman claimed R200 000 in damages from Sahara Computers Ltd.
She was a clerk when a manager from another department sexually harassed her.
She instituted a claim for mental anguish and psychological trauma in the Pretoria High Court.
She said her employer was obliged to provide her with a safe working environment where she would not be subjected to sexual harassment. She said she reported the sex pest to her superiors but the company was reluctant to act against the culprit.
She said she did not hold her employer liable for the actions of the sex pest, but said the company should have acted against him when she lodged the complaint.
She testified that she started to work as a clerk at the firm in November 2006.
A few months later, the manager of another department, asked her “how did she come to work there without passing through him”.
He told her everyone had to first pass him and that he would like to have sex with her. She told a colleague about this, who advised her to ignore it, as the man was “well connected”.
She said the manager often came to her department and always told her he wanted to have sex with her. One morning, while she was sitting on a chair, he came from behind and put his arms around her and tried to touch her private parts.
Two other colleagues saw this.
She reported him to her manager but he told her he could not do anything as the man was “well connected”.
He said her complaint could instead lead to her dismissal.
He, however, undertook to look after her in her department and see that the manager did not bother her there. She said the sex pest kept on visiting her when her boss was not there and told her that “sexual harassment is for whites only and does not apply to him”.
Once he came into the storeroom where she was but only later realised her boss was also there.
He then left, but told her in Tswana that “he will get her and she will have sex with him”.
Another time, she said, the sex pest poured water on her private parts. When she complained to bystanders, he held out his phone to her and told her to phone his superiors, as they would not do anything.
She also testified about other incidents. She said in February 2008 she officially complained to the company’s human resources (HR) department.
A disciplinary hearing was held where the man admitted he was “harsh or rude” towards her. He was issued with a final warning.
She was unhappy with the outcome and said she at least expected him to be suspended. When she encountered him after this at work, he had a threatening attitude towards her, she said.
She said she tried to appeal the finding of the disciplinary hearing, but nothing came of it. She then resigned in May 2009 “as she felt her employer was not protecting her”.
Judge Ben du Plessis found that something happened to upset the woman and on the evidence, that something could only be the sexual harassment she claimed.
Du Plessis said the company acted reasonably regarding the sexual harassment after she reported it to the HR department.
But, he said, the problem should have been addressed earlier, when she told her manager about it.
While he protected her within the confines of their office, the harassment on the premises continued elsewhere. The judge said if her manager reported her complaint earlier to HR, the harassment would have stopped then.
The company should have had management and disciplinary structures to immediately and effectively have dealt with the complaint, the judge said. - Pretoria News