Christine steels the day

01 September 2010 - 01:10 By SALLY EVANS

Christine Ehlers is ready to rediscover her zest to live and face the world - as a proud woman.

Yesterday, after almost a year-long court battle with her former employer, the Kempton Park transsexual was given another lease on life.

Minutes before a labour court judge ruled on Bohler Uddeholm Africa's application for leave to appeal, the steel retailer reached a settlement with Ehlers's lawyers.

In January last year, it fired Ehlers for undergoing a sex change.

Instead of what could have been a protracted legal battle, the company reached "an amicable agreement" with her lawyers.

The deal was concluded out of court, with Judge Ellem Francis making it an order of court.

Francis ruled last month that Ehlers' dismissal had been unconstitutional.

The terms of the settlement will remain confidential.

Although she could not divulge any details, Ehlers said that she now had a "chance of a new start and finding me again".

It has been a long and difficult road for the 43-year-old.

Her troubles began in 2008 when she became a full-time employee of the company as a sales representative. Ehlers said she was treated badly by her colleagues after she began her gender-reassignment treatments. She filed a grievance with the company, but the proceedings went against her.

Ehlers was told by the chairman of the company to either revert to being a man, as she was when she joined the company, or accept a redundancy order and severance benefits.

But in January last year Ehlers was dismissed after another inquiry found that there was a breach in the relationship in general, which had been "seriously prejudiced by the employee".

In his earlier judgment, Judge Francis said he found the attitude of Bohler Uddeholm Africa "appalling".

"This is reminiscent of the dark ages or of our most recent past, where there were job reservations and certain jobs were reserved for white people only and white males in particular."

The judge ruled that within a week of his judgment the company should write a letter of apology to Ehlers and "take steps to prevent the same unfair discrimination and to report to this court within three months on the steps taken".

Shortly after the ruling, Bohler Uddeholm Africa submitted an application for leave to appeal this judgment.

Yesterday, before both parties reached an agreement, the company argued that the relationship had broken down and was therefore irreparable.