Gauteng teacher, fired for hugging pupil, loses labour court battle

Published May 9, 2023


Durban - A natural science teacher, who hugged a grade 9 pupil and told her he loved her and was subsequently fired, has been dealt another blow.

The teacher challenged his dismissal in the Johannesburg Labour Court, but the court ruled that his dismissal be upheld.

The teacher had been employed with the Gauteng Department of Education since 2016.

On February 8, 2019, there was a complaint of sexual harassment by a pupil against the teacher.

The teacher was placed on a precautionary transfer pending investigations into the allegations.

The complaint levelled against the teacher was that on 27 November 2018, he had allegedly conducted himself in an improper, disgraceful or unacceptable manner whilst on duty by hugging and kissing a grade 9 learner on her forehead.

He is alleged to have called the 16-year-old pupil ‘baby’ and told her that he loved her.

In her evidence, the pupil said that the teacher had a habit of ‘high-fiving’ the learners at the end of classes.

She said at the beginning of the third term, the teacher, other than ‘high-fiving’ her, would then insist on giving her a hug, which she innocently considered to be ‘fatherly’.

The pupil said this behaviour continued, and other pupils noticed that she was being treated differently by the teacher and started insinuating that she had an inappropriate relationship with him.

She added that the teacher also started inviting her to come and see him during her free periods, and even though she agreed out of respect, she never went to see him.

The pupil said one day, after a final examination, the teacher told her to come to his class, and she followed him but asked a friend to accompany her.

When they arrived at the class, the teacher asked them whether they were involved in romantic relationships and whether they were sexually active.

At some point, the pupil’s mother had realised that there was something amiss with her behaviour and had requested her aunt to intervene.

The pupil revealed her concerns to her aunt, and the pupil’s mother reported the matter to the school principal.

In his evidence, the teacher denied kissing the pupil but conceded that he told her that he ‘loved her for being ‘open, brave, and honest’ about her private life.

The teacher further denied that he kissed the pupil on the forehead as they walked out of the classroom and considered her as a daughter.

The teacher, when asked the reason the complainant would, out of 1400 other learners, seek to falsely implicate him, in his response claimed that it this was probably due to a ‘third force’’ which coached her and her friend with the sole purpose of removing him from the school.

The arbitrator rejected the teacher’s version that his questions to the complainant about her private life or telling her that he loved her were merely innocent.

Such conduct was inappropriate and of a sexual nature and was equally serious within the school environment, the arbitrator had said in his ruling.

In his ruling, Labour Court Judge said Edwin Tlhotlhalemaje said that he was satisfied that the evidence against the teacher demonstrated an individual who had committed misconduct against a learner.

Tlhotlhalemaje found that the teacher justified his actions and refused to show any contrition.

“He instead chose to point fingers for the position he found himself in on unknown ‘third forces’ with no evidence to back up his conspiracy theories. Clearly, the ultimate sanction of a dismissal was appropriate in the circumstances.’’