Lamberti apologises unreservedly for 'employment equity' comment

03 April 2018 - 12:50 By Karyn Maughan
Mark Lamberti says he "deeply regrets" upsetting a senior black female staff member by calling her a "female employment equity" appointment. File photo.
Mark Lamberti says he "deeply regrets" upsetting a senior black female staff member by calling her a "female employment equity" appointment. File photo.
Image: Dean Hutton/Bloomberg

Newly appointed Eskom board member and Imperial Holdings CEO Mark Lamberti says he "deeply regrets" that he upset a senior black female staff member by calling her a "female employment equity" appointment in front of other managers.

Imperial said it had not been Lamberti's intention to "insult or demean" the former staff member in any way and he apologised "unreservedly".

The statement followed a North Gauteng Court ruling that Lamberti had impaired the dignity of Adila Chowan‚ a highly qualified and experienced senior black female staff member.

Chowan told TimesLIVE: "I'm a professional person. I was offered a settlement to drop this case‚ but for me this matter was not about money. It wasn't just about me. I really hope other people will think twice before they make such comments."

Power utility Eskom has told TimesLIVE that it is studying the verdict against Lamberti‚ who was allegedly heavily involved in the disciplinary process that was launched against Chowan after she lodged a grievance about his conduct.

She was summarily suspended after she lodged the complaints – a move that the High Court found was not plausibly explained by Imperial Group senior leadership.

Chowan‚ a former employee at Imperial's subsidiary‚ Associated Motor Holdings (AMH)‚ brought a court application against Lamberti last year after she was fired in September 2015 over allegations of misconduct. The North Gauteng High Court has now found her to be a credible witness‚ who gave reliable evidence about how she was side-lined from being appointed as company CFO – despite promises made to her by Lamberti.

The North Gauteng High Court found that Chowan proved that she had suffered damages as a result of Lamberti and AMH's conduct. They had tried and failed to have her claim thrown out of court.

Chowan said Lamberti had made her feel like the only reason she had been employed within the Imperial Group was because she was an "employment equity employee".

"I had built my career. I had been a CFO. I had acted as a CEO. All those achievements were not being recognised‚ apart from the fact that I was now being objectified in terms of being a female employment equity candidate‚" she testified.

Chowan lodged grievances about Lamberti having referred to her as a female employment equity candidate‚ saying she wanted him to apologise. She further complained about group CFO Ockert Janse van Rensburg‚ who she said suggested to her that she had been given a brown company car because it matched her skin. He allegedly said he had a white vehicle because it matched his skin. Janse van Rensburg denied saying this‚ but the court has found this denial "implausible".

Judge Pieter Meyer said it was indisputable – based on AMH's almost entirely white male senior management at the time of Chowan's employment – that the company had "fared very badly in redressing the imbalances and wrongs of the past".

Lamberti's lawyers had claimed that Chowan wasn't given the position of CFO as she was inexperienced.

In a statement released on Tuesday morning‚ Imperial maintained that there were "no findings of race or gender discrimination against AMH‚ Imperial and Mark Lamberti".

This was despite the fact that the High Court had found that Chowan's "inference of racial and gender discrimination against her" based on facts before the court was "justified".