IT is usually spoken of in low tones, yet it is one of the major issues in the workplace: sexual harassment. An attempt by the three social partners — Government (Ministry of Labour), private employers under the auspices of the Nigeria Employers Consultative Association ( NECA), and organized labour represented by the Nigeria Labour Congress with assistance of the International Labour Organisation ( ILO) after series of meetings to get the legislature to pass a law on sexual harassment and five other bills was frustrated by the Ministry of Justice and the Federal Executive Council.
Two female legislators sponsored similar bills but NONE has seen the light of day yet’; female employees have to contend with this issue on a daily basis.
Recently, the National Industrial Court set a precedent with the award of almost N40 million against an employer for condoning sexual harassment. Here is the first part of the story:
By Innocent Anaba
Following complaints of sexual harrassment and eventual sack by her management, a former Enterprise Marketing Manager of Microsoft Nigeria Limited, Mrs Ejieke Maduka, headed for the National Industrial Court (NIC) for justice. She had alleged that she had been sexually harassed by her immediate boss.
Defendants in the suit were Microsoft Nigeria Limited, Microsoft Corporation, Mr Emmanuel Onyeje, former Country Manager of Microsoft Nigeria and Mr Adefolu Majekodunmi.
The claimant, who was also the Diversity Champion for Women Rights in West, East and Central Africa, WECA, for Microsoft Worldwide, had in the suit, claimed that she was sacked for refusing to succumb to the sexual advances of her immediate boss, Mr Onyeje and for being against an insider dealing involving Mr Majekodunmi.
Right to hire
Microsoft Nigeria Limited in its defence, asked the court to dismiss the suit, contending that it has a right to hire and fire the claimant, adding that her sack has nothing to do with her alleged refusal to succumb to the sexual advances of her immediate boss. It also denied that Onyeje sexually harassed the claimant.
Microsoft Corporation, on its part, prayed the court to strike its name out from the suit, as it neither employed nor sacked the claimant, adding that it owed her no duty of care.
Onyeje on his part, denied ever sexually harassing the claimant. During trial, Onyeje’s only witness, Awawu Olumide Sojinrin, who testified that she never saw him sexually harass any female staff, however, during cross examination, admitted that while on an official trip to Atlanta, the United States, he did not tickle her, but he touched and poked her. She also admitted that she saw him touch and poke some of her colleagues.
Majekodunmi also asked the court to strike off his name from the suit, as all he did was to carry out a lawful order of his employer, by issuing the termination letter on the claimant.
The court struck off his name from the suit, holding that he is not a proper party in the suit.
Trial judge, Justice O. Obaseki-Osaghae, in the judgment, on Awawu Sojinri, witness to the third defendant, said “I found this witness to be very evasive in her answers. She had to be reminded that she was under oath. Her name was mentioned in the application’s affidavit as having been touched and tickled by the third respondent, yet she denied it.
She gave false information to counsel who swore to the affidavit and she was not truthful in her witness deposition. She gave inconsistent material evidence on oath.
By her own testimony, Fatumata Soukouna, the applicant’s witness and herself could from their seats see things going on in the office. Fatumata Soukouna the third respondent touched and tickled the applicants several times in the office and other female staff.
It follows that this witness saw it as well but denied it in her deposition. I find that she is not a witness of truth. I therefore, reject her evidence that she did not see the third respondent touch the applicant.”
On the sack of the applicant, the court said: “The first respondent has stated that it was not only the applicant’s employment that was terminated, that others were also affected as it was restructuring and down-sizing at the time.
“There is no evidence of downsizing or restructuring at the material time before the court; neither are the names of the other employees who were also affected by the exercise before the court. The evidence before the court is that it was only the applicant who was affected.
I do not find any evidence that the sudden replacement of the applicant with Peter Evbota is a breach of the first defendant’s recruitment policies or in furtherance of gender discrimination.
“The applicant has given evidence that she notified the Human Resources Manager and her immediate boss Mr Majekodunrnmi of sexual harassment by the third respondent, but they did nothing about it.
The first respondent has told the court that it only became aware that the applicant had made allegations of sexual harassment against the third respondent after her employment was terminated and that it investigated the allegations and discovered that they could not be substantiated.
“The Investigatory Report has not been placed before the court, neither has it been seen by its Legal Manager who gave evidence.
I therefore, do not believe that the first respondent conducted any investigation after it became aware of the allegations, moreso with the third respondent still functioning as Country Manager.
“The 2nd respondent on becoming aware launched an investigation in the United States of America. This is confirmed by the 3rd respondent’s witness.