Minister held liable for prison warder who sexually assaulted co-worker

The high court in Cape Town has ruled that the Minister of Correctional Services is liable for the actions of a prison warder who sexually assaulted his colleague, a social worker. File photo.
The high court in Cape Town has ruled that the Minister of Correctional Services is liable for the actions of a prison warder who sexually assaulted his colleague, a social worker. File photo.
Image: Allan Swart/123RF

The high court in Cape Town has found that the Minister of Correctional Services is vicariously responsible for the actions of a corrections officer who sexually assaulted his colleague 10 years ago.

On February 9 2009, Adam Stryers, who was a centre co-ordinator for corrections  at Dwarsrivier Corrections Centre, was in the centre's office with the woman, a social worker, who had come to collect a key to the room where the computer modem was stored.

Stryers told the woman that he had dreamt about her as a man dreamt about a woman.

Uncomfortable, she got up to leave. However, Stryers came around from behind his desk and stood between her and the door.

As she tried to pass, he grabbed her with both arms around her waist, pinning down her arms and putting his hands on her bottom.

Stryers kissed her, trying to force his tongue into her mouth, at the same time pushing his lower body against her. She managed to wriggle free and fled in the direction of her office.

The woman, who travelled with Stryers to work every day using the prison vehicle, reported the incident on January 13 2009.

In addition to internal disciplinary proceedings, Stryers was subsequently convicted in the magistrate’s court in April 2011 on one count of sexual assault and sentenced to a fine of R600 or 12 days' imprisonment.

Despite maintaining his innocence and being granted leave to appeal his conviction by the magistrate, he did not pursue any appeal.

The woman then claimed damages from Stryers and the department.

The court decided to deal with the merits of the case, with arguments on the amount of damages to be discussed at a later stage.

The issues for determination when the matter was heard by the court were whether the woman was assaulted by Stryers, and if so, whether Stryers acted in the course and scope of his employment at the time of the assault. The court, after deliberation on these issues, determined that the minister was vicariously liable.

Vicarious liability refers to a situation where an employer, in this case the minister, is responsible for any negligent acts performed by an employee during the scope and course of his or her employment.

Judge Judith Cloete, in a judgment passed on Tuesday, held that on the issue of whether the woman was assaulted by Stryers, she was more than persuaded that it occurred and in the manner described by the woman.

“Accordingly, Stryers must be held liable for such damages as she may prove,” Cloete said.

On the issue of vicarious liability, Cloete said it was clear — on a balance of probabilities — that Stryers was discharging his duties immediately before the incident and those duties were discharged in furtherance of the prison’s business.

She said, given their respective positions and responsibilities, the plaintiff would generally have contact with Stryers on a daily basis.

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