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Three former Allan Gray employees are suing the asset management company for damages, claiming they were branded as dishonest in an e-mail sent by a director.
They were dismissed without notice in August 2010, with another employee, after they were each found guilty of gross negligence, as well as breach of practice and procedure, following an internal disciplinary hearing. However, they were cleared of the main charge, dishonesty.
A few months later, on March 13 last year, the Commission for Conciliation, Mediation and Arbitration (CCMA) found they had been unfairly dismissed.
Now, three of the four fired employees – Alex Mueller, 35, of Newlands; Neil Kleinsmith, 28, of Wynberg; and Anieq Samsodien, 31, of Rondebosch East – have filed an application at the Western Cape High Court, each claiming R150 000 in damages and an apology.
At the time of the axing, Mueller and Kleinsmith were administrators, while Samsodien was an authorisations administrator, a job which required monitoring the work of administrators.
In papers filed at the High Court, it was alleged they colluded to bypass the company’s internal controls, which entails logging errors in administrators’ work.
The three men claim that on August 13, 2010 – just over a week after the disciplinary matter was concluded – the company’s retail operations director in Cape Town, Robert Formby, “maliciously” sent an e-mail to staff members about their dismissals.
In the e-mail, attached to the court papers, Formby said Allan Gray’s business was “based on values of trust and honesty” and that when those values were challenged, he had to “take action”.
“In this case, two administrators and two authorisers were colluding and not logging errors. The issue I have with this is (1) it bypasses our internal controls around authorising, which is specifically aimed at preventing possible fraud and the loss of client funds and (2) it dishonestly gives the administrators an advantage with respect to performance measures, which is completely wrong.”
Mueller, Kleinsmith and Samsodien said these statements had been made knowing that they had not been found guilty of dishonesty.
But in its own court papers, Allan Gray and Formby maintained the trio colluded to bypass internal controls and that the contents of the e-mail were substantially true. The employees it had been sent to had also had a “legitimate interest” in the matter.
The three former employees said that following the CCMA’s ruling, Formby had sent another e-mail on March 23 last year, to employees in the retail division in Cape Town. This e-mail, they alleged, had been intended to make it seem as if they had colluded and “acted fraudulently” and that the basis for the CCMA’s ruling was that there was “no explicit rule” that they should not act in this manner.
They said that as a result of the e-mail, their reputations had been damaged. Allan Gray and Formby, however, denied this in their court papers.
They said the second e-mail had repeated the substance of the first e-mail, that it had dealt with the outcome of the arbitration proceedings and that its contents had been true and of “public benefit”.
A date is yet to be set for hearing of the matter.