In a unanimous judgment, former head of anaesthesiology at George Hospital, Dr Charles James McGregor, who was fired for sexual harassment in 2016, was refused leave to appeal his dismissal by the Constitutional Court.
The Concourt also reduced his six months’ award of compensation amounting to R924 679.92, as previously granted by the Public Health and Social Development Sectoral Bargaining Council, to two months’ remuneration.
“Truly, the harshness of the wrong of sexual harassment is compounded when it is suffered at the hands of one’s supervisor. It is difficult to comprehend that Dr McGregor could walk away with almost R1 000 000 to be paid from a barren public purse,” the Concourt found.
In December 2016, McGregor was dismissed by the provincial health department following an internal disciplinary inquiry in which he was found guilty of four charges of misconduct that amounted to sexual harassment.
Each of the incidents on which the four charges were based involved a newly qualified medical practitioner, who was completing an internship under his supervision and was 30 years his junior.
The first charge was that McGregor, while on duty at an outreach clinic with the victim, made unwelcome suggestions of a sexual nature when he dared her to remove her clothes and swim naked.
The second charge arose from the same outreach excursion, when he suggested she have an affair with him. The third charge related to an incident whereby, upon their return to George Hospital, McGregor inappropriately pressed himself against the victim while demonstrating how to carry out a procedure.
The final charge was that he made unwelcome sexual advances and inappropriately touched the victim’s leg while they were driving together.
In January 2017, he lodged an internal appeal against the dismissal, which was dismissed. Aggrieved, McGregor referred an unfair dismissal dispute to the Public Health and Social Development Sectoral Bargaining Council.
In another attempt to get his job back, McGregor applied to the Labour Court on the basis that his conduct neither constituted sexual harassment nor did it warrant dismissal.
The department then brought a counter-review application in which it too sought to have portions of the arbitration award set aside, namely, the finding that McGregor had not committed misconduct in respect of charge three; the conclusion that the dismissal was procedurally and substantively unfair; and the award of compensation.
He also approached the Labour Appeal Court and finally the Concourt.
“Not only was Dr McGregor at all times oblivious to the power dynamics that undergirded his professional relationship vis-à-vis the victim, he has also vacillated between denying outright that his conduct constituted sexual harassment and flippantly downplaying the significance thereof.
’’Furthermore, instead of showing remorse, Dr McGregor has attempted to impugn the credibility of the victim as a witness. His refusal to recognise his wrongdoing adds insult to injury, and his attack on the victim’s credibility is salt to the wound,” the Concourt found.
Both the Western Cape Health Department and lawyers for McGregor did not respond to requests for comment on Thursday.