'Old white men' prevail as female Absa boss loses court case
An Absa executive who was fired after she called management “old white men” has failed in a high court bid to prove she was unfairly dismissed.
Shirley Simmadari‚ former head of sales at Absa Corporate and Investment Bank‚ also claimed she had been racially victimised‚ but Cape Town Labour Court judge Anton Steenkamp said she had failed to prove this.
Simmadari‚ 60‚ from Johannesburg‚ was fired for gross misconduct. In his judgment‚ Steenkamp said she harassed and bullied subordinates.
“For example‚ she referred to individuals as ‘monkeys’‚ handed out ... gifts of a sexual nature and threatened their jobs.”
She also made racist‚ ageist and other inappropriate comments‚ said Steenkamp. “She referred to management as ‘old white men who do not know what they’re doing’ and ‘oxygen thieves’ ... and made comments about ‘boere’.”
Simmadari told the court Absa treated her differently from one of her subordinates‚ a white man‚ who was “allowed to retire gracefully”.
Steenkamp said the subordinate had not been found guilty of misconduct but had been one of Simmadari’s targets. She had alluded to him in a comment about “old white men and old age homes” and given him a pack of oversized playing cards as a jibe at his age.
In her affidavit‚ Steenkamp said‚ Simmadari said she was “targeted for dismissal through artificial changes because of her race ... and treated differently through victimisation and harassment ... due to the fact that she is a black spearheading transformation”.
But she had failed to identify any individual who had been treated differently from her based on race. “On her version‚ even if she was white and pursued transformation‚ she might still have been victimised. Consequently‚ whatever her race‚ this had no link to her alleged discrimination.
“She has not established that she was dismissed on the grounds of her race rather than for misconduct; and she has not shown that she was treated differently to [her subordinate] because of her race‚ gender or conscience.”
Steenkamp ordered Simmadari to pay Absa’s costs‚ saying she had made “far-reaching allegations” against the bank without any basis for doing so.