Manager fired for sexual harassment

E-mails sent to businesswoman land car dealership employee in trouble

RACY e-mails sent to a Port Elizabeth businesswoman were the undoing of a senior manager at a luxury car dealership, who has been fired for sexual harassment. The sexually suggestive e-mails sent to Crystal Slabbert, 52, who operates a car cleaning and valet service at the dealership’s premises, came back to haunt him last month.

Slabbert’s contract is coming to an end soon.

The e-mails, written by Maritime Motors group service manager Dave Watson, who is in his late 40s, date back to 2012.

One reads: “Hi. Come sit on my lap and see what you in that red dress does to me.”

In another he says: “Hi. You torment me lots when you have that short shirt on [and] your tummy sticks out. Makes me want to lift it up all the way!!!!!”

The e-mails were sent during 2012 and 2013.

Although Watson said his lawyers had instructed him not to comment, he intimated that Slabbert was an active participant in the correspondence.

Asked to provide proof of the e-mails he alleged she had sent to him, he said he no longer had access to his work e-mail account.

Maritime Motors managing director Arthur Mutlow said Watson was fired late last month when the e-mails came to light because his conduct was deemed “unbecoming of a senior manager and contrary to our code of morals and ethics”.

However, Mutlow questioned Slabbert ’s timing, saying: “Noticeably, she only brought this to our attention when we were considering terminating her contract, which has since taken place.” Slabbert declined to comment, saying her lawyers were handling the matter.

Her lawyer, Dean Murray, said: “We are looking at various options and have booked an appointment with an advocate for 5pm [today].

“Our client has instructed us to pursue the matter.”

Mutlow said Watson was not contesting his dismissal.

“I queried the length of time taken to expose the alleged sexual harassment,” he said.

“At no time did we ignore the e-mails … in fact, [we] investigated the matter fully, which proved that written harassment had taken place.

“There was no physical sexual harassment. After having in-depth discussions with members of the board of Maritime Motors, and with Dave, it was agreed that his conduct was unbecoming of a senior manager and contrary to our code of morals and ethics and he would therefore have to leave the company.”

In addition, the e-mails spoke for themselves and Watson did not contest this, Mutlow said.

Mercedes-Benz South Africa spokeswoman Jeanette Clark said Maritime Motors, which sells Mercedes-Benz and other luxury car brands, was not part of the multinational car maker.

“It is a franchisee authorised to sell our products,” she said.

“The dealership has its own management team, who manage their HR [human resources] processes and policies.”

Webber Wentzel partner Deirdre Venter, who specialises in labour law, said: “Sexual harassment is a serious form of misconduct in the workplace and a single act of sexual harassment, which is of an extremely serious nature, may warrant dismissal.

“The consequences of being found guilty of sexual harassment will depend on the severity of the sexual harassment.

“In some instances, a final written warning together with counselling may be an appropriate sanction.

“In serious cases, dismissal may be appropriate,” she said.

Julia Cameron, who arbitrates labour disputes and chairs internal disciplinary inquiries, said there had been an increase in sexual harassment cases in the metro.

“We are not sure if this is because people are more aware of their rights, or if there is a general increase in this type of conduct.

“Women can also perpetrate this type of conduct,” Cameron said.

Sexual harassment is defined as unwelcome, offensive and uninvited conduct of a sexual nature that affects the dignity of the victim.

Venter said sexual harassment could take a number of forms – verbal and non-verbal, such as unwanted physical contact or unwelcome innuendos, suggestions, comments and gestures.

“Conduct that is welcome and invited cannot constitute sexual harassment.

“If these e-mails were unwelcome and uninvited by the recipient, they would in my view constitute sexual harassment, not ‘written harassment’,” she said.

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