Academic demands apology

Professor Margaret Orr’s case against Unisa goes before the Labour Court on Monday with a claim for R720 000 in damages and a public apology.

Orr’s claims against Unisa include constructive dismissal, unfair discrimination and harassment and automatically unfair dismissal. Joining her in her claim is the Academic Professional Staff Association (Apsa).

Barney Pityana has been subpoenaed to appear in court in his role as vice-chancellor and principal of Unisa. Brigalia Bam, chairperson of the Independent Electoral Commission and former deputy chairperson of Unisa’s council, has also been subpoenaed.

This case follows one two years ago when Orr brought an action against the university’s then chairperson of council, McCaps Motimele, alleging sexual harassment.
The matter was settled out of court for R150 000.

In her current claim, Orr alleges that Unisa is responsible for damages as a result of the alleged sexual harassment she suffered at Motimele’s hands.

Her main claim, for constructive dismissal, rests on Unisa’s alleged failure “to promote equal opportunity in the workplace by eliminating unfair discrimination … in any employment policy or practice, to implement affirmative action measures and … prepare and implement an employment equity plan”.

Orr also alleges that she resigned because her employment at Unisa was rendered intolerable by the university’s failure to protect her or discipline Motimele.Unisa denies this and claims that there were no other steps open to council Unisa denies that “the acts of alleged misconduct by the chairperson were committed in circumstances which render [Unisa] liable”.

Orr alleges that Unisa is liable for the alleged unfair discrimination because Motimele acted in his capacity as chairperson of the council and “accordingly as an organ of Unisa”.

Unisa denies that Motimele was an employee of the university and denies any liability for his alleged actions.

She is asking the Labour Court to rule that the university council must publish an unqualified apology in a South African newspaper and report to the court within three months on steps taken to prevent similar harassment. She also wants the court to award her R720 000 in damages. Unisa denies that she is entitled to any sort of relief.

During her tenure at Unisa Orr was a full professor, a member of Unisa’s council, senate and Institutional Forum, the chairperson of Apsa, and the coordinator of the Job Evaluation and Performance Appraisal Project.

Orr resigned from the senate and the institutional forum in August 2000.

In November that year, Orr’s application for a vice-principalship was considered by a selection committee that Motimele chaired.

In her statement, Orr alleges that although her attorneys had written to Motimele demanding that he recuse himself from any process involving a consideration of Orr’s application, Motimele remained present during the committee’s consideration of applicants.

Orr was not shortlisted. But Unisa says Motimele was not part of the shortlisting process for the position of vice-principal nor did he influence the process in any way. In December 2000, Orr resigned from Unisa.

Orr is currently the director of the Centre for University Learning, Teaching and Development at the University of the Witwatersrand. Motimele is an advocate at the Pretoria Bar.

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