HARARE – A woman who was sacked from her job after reporting her boss for sexual harassment has been awarded US$180,000 by the High Court after a nearly 20-year battle.
Rita Marque Mbatha reported former Confederation of Zimbabwe Industries (CZI) CEO Farai Bwatikona Zizhou for sexual harassment when she worked as his personal assistant between 2002 and 2003. The CZI responded by sacking her.
Last week, a judge praised her tenacity for keeping her fight alive as she won a lawsuit against Zizhou.
Justice Joseph Mafusire said Mbatha’s victory had come through “blood and sweat.”
Mbatha sued both Zizhou and CZI for a total of US$500,000. The suit against CZI is pending.
Justice Mafusire said it was disheartening that Zizhou never showed any remorse.
“The matter has had a long turbulent history. The wheels of justice have turned slowly for her. There can be no denying that. She has been to this court. She strives for closure. Any lesser mortal would probably have given up. Plainly, Mbatha is no lesser mortal. Her tenacity and fighting spirit have moved mountains. She is still fighting,” said the judge.
Mafusire said his judgement only settles half the case.
Mbatha, now the director of Women’s Comfort Corner Foundation (WCCF) and a board member of the International Alliance of Women (IAW), told the High Court that Zizhou’s harassment took the form of inappropriate touching, unwelcome offensive jokes, invitation by innuendo to an inappropriate sexual relationship and offensive telephone messages.
She was employed by CZI in September 2002 and got fired in July 2003. Mbatha accused Zizhou of engineering her sacking after she had reported him for sexual harassment.
In one incident, Zizhou emailed Mbatha with a misleading subject caption titled “Call from Mr Miller (Superior Holdings).”
He started by writing that “I have used the above caption just in case…”
Zizhou asked Mbatha to delete the email soon after reading it.
In the email, he said he was prepared to lose his job for her sake.
He wrote: “Shamwari if I do get dismissed, it will be because I would like to do whatever I can for the person I care for most, you. Right now I’m under pressure to balance the budget of CZI. You have just completed your probation and… you’re not eligible for the general increase for permanent staff… I’m bending the rule for you, please hold on tight to me, if we crash, we crash together.”
He went on to say that she would get the same increase everyone was getting.
He wrote to Mbatha that he would be visualising her when he is bathing with his wife, adding that the sight of his naked wife was “torture and unbearable” to him.
Mbatha’s matter went to arbitration, the High Court and all the way up to the Supreme Court and back to the High Court again.
Justice Mafusire said: “There has never been an apology. One thinks it would have been quite salutary and a measure of atonement for the injured brain. At the arbitration, Zizhou sought to dismiss his reprehensible conduct as mere jokes. He was callous. He engineered Mbatha’s dismissal from employment. After the incident and the dismissal, she was not treated with sensitivity.
“Even discounting what the CZI president is alleged to have said to her, the person to negotiate an out of court settlement with plaintiff was none other than Zizhou himself.”
Mafusire ruled that taking into consideration all that Mbatha had been through, “the proper level of damages for sexual harassment perpetrated by the defendant from September 2002 to June 2003 is US$180,000… or equivalent thereof in local currency convertible at the interbank rate at the time of payment.”
He ruled that Zizhou should pay interest on the amount and cost of suit.-Zimlive