The Bloemfontein High Court has ordered the National Union of Metalworkers of SA and two others, including a supervisor, to pay R100,000 in damages to a staffer whose HIV status was revealed during a grievance meeting.
The order was made by Judge Sharon Chesiwe last week after the staffer approached the court seeking R1,000,000 in damages.
The staffer, who cannot be named, instituted a defamation claim action against her employer, Numsa and her supervisor, Andile Zitho and Mamojabeng Molatlhoe, who was a friend and colleague of the staffer.
The staffer told the court she shared her HIV status with Molatlhoe in 2007 after she asked why she missed work so frequently. She had been told in confidence.
This information was subsequently relayed to Zitho, around 2010, in confidence, but when he was confronted with a grievance complaint by 14 staffers in February 2021, he tried to use the staffer's HIV status to divide the workers.
The staffer said that on the day Zitho disclosed her status to staff, he had warned the group of 14 staff members that he would say something that would shock them all.
The court heard that Zitho had said “some of them will not be getting along after the meeting” as he revealed her HIV-positive status, laughed and walked out of the meeting, as the staffer cried and was consoled by others.
He later returned, concluded the meeting and apologised to the staffer, the court heard.
The staffer said she was admitted to hospital and had to consult a psychologist for therapy after the incident.
She also testified her friend, Molatlhoe comforted her after the ordeal, but she did not apologise.
She told the court she suffered with suicidal thoughts and the disclosure led to her work suffering and that Zitho “became very harsh towards her when she made mistakes”.
Judge Chesiwe said Zitho’s apology to the staffer was a mitigating factor, and that the staffer was still employed by Numsa and the relationship between all three appeared cordial.
Chesiwe believed burdening Numsa, Zitho and Molatlhoe with a huge claim would be unfair and order ordered R100,000 in damages, which is to be paid jointly and severally.
Costs were awarded.