Workplace isn't a 'lonely hearts club'‚ says furious judge in sex case

07 March 2018 - 14:04 By Dave Chambers
Judge court gavel
Judge court gavel
Image: Gallo Images/iStockphoto

The reinstatement of a mine engineer who was sacked after sexually harassing a colleague for eight years has been condemned by a judge.

The “misogynistic‚ patriarchal and insensitive” approach of a Commission for Conciliation‚ Mediation and Arbitration commissioner was “beyond comprehension”‚ said Judge Edwin Tlhotlhalemaje.

Sitting in the Labour Court in Johannesburg‚ Tlhotlhalemaje scrapped commissioner Josias Maake’s reinstatement of Rustenburg Platinum Mines engineering specialist Steve Pietersen‚ as well as his order that Pietersen should get R576‚000 in back pay.

Pietersen was fired after a boilermaker reported that for eight years he had asked her for sex at least twice a month.

Tlhotlhalemaje said Maake’s approach to Pietersen’s successful appeal to the CCMA‚ which was supported by the trade union UASA‚ highlighted the need for commissioners to receive urgent training on sexual harassment cases.

“In the face and growth of global movements such as #MeToo‚ The Silence Breakers‚ #NotInMyName and #BalanceTonPorc‚ or “out your pig”‚ there is an even greater need for more sensitisation to the scourge‚” he said.

Tlhotlhalemaje said Pietersen’s sexual harassment began at a company braai in 2007 when he asked the woman — whose husband also worked at Rustenburg Platinum Mines — how she made ends meet‚ and suggested that if she slept with him he could help with her expenses.

Later‚ he suggested they go on the same training course so they could sleep together‚ and told her he could help her to be promoted in return for sex.

Asked by Maake why she had not reported the harassment for eight years‚ the woman said she was reluctant to do so because Pietersen’s wife‚ who also worked at the mine‚ was “a good person”.

Maake’s ruling said Pietersen’s words at the braai did not amount to sexual harassment. “At best‚ they appear to depict a love proposal‚” he said. “Surely there can never be anything untoward for an employee to be attracted to a co-employee ... and to accordingly propose love.”

Tlhotlhalemaje said he was shocked and horrified by Maake’s words. “A workplace is exactly that and should not ordinarily be confused by a ‘find me love’ sanctuary or lonely hearts’ club for love-sick employees‚” he said.

“[It] should be free from amorous and testosterone-filled employees looking for gratification at every available opportunity.”

The judge said all Pietersen offered to counter the woman’s evidence and that of five witnesses was “conspiracy theories and denials”‚ and it was “beyond comprehension” how Maake had been persuaded that no sexual harassment had taken place.

Tlhotlhalemaje ordered UASA to pay Rustenburg Platinum Mines’ costs in the labour court case. “It should have been apparent to [the union] that the commissioner’s award was indefensible‚” he said.

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