Deputy CEO of Grant Thornton South Africa and its head of advisory services Gillian Saunders retracted a letter of permanent employment offer to an employee who had discussed a sexual harassment scandal the company had tried hiding.
Saunders did not deny writing the letter at 11.55am, a few moments after the former employee had been interviewed live by Eusebius McKaiser yesterday morning. The Citizen will not name the employee.
The employee, who has four law degrees, including one from Cambridge University, had offered testimony of how Saunders and other company executives had let her down when she reported a case of sexual harassment against senior partner Vernon Naidoo.
“We refer to the offer of employment on the 6th of March. At the time we believed that […] it will repair the relationship. While we respect your right to […] you have elected to make negative statements about the firm and its employees […] your conduct potentially causes harm. The offer of employment will be retracted,” McKaiser read from the letter Saunders wrote to the employee.
Saunders said although the employee in question was “qualified” and “experienced”, the decision to retract the offer of employment was taken because the company had decided to restructure the forensics department, which she was a senior manager of. Effectively, Saunders implied that this decision was taken within a few hours of the interview.
Another former employee, who claimed that during a “business trip” Naidoo forced her to share a hotel room with her because it was “company policy” to save costs, also said she received very little support from Saunders and the HR department. Saunders denied this.
“We referred the matter to HR and said please advise us because we didn’t know how to act. We supported the employee, and she understandably did not want to sit with Vernon [Naidoo] in the same room and offered a senior partner to seat with her during the meeting. She was willing to give testimony herself, but unfortunately because Vernon went to hospital she was not able to do so,” Saunders said.
Saunders argued that the retraction of a letter of employment had “nothing to do with the sexual harassment case” despite having written that she was concerned the employee had “elected to make negative statements about the company”.
She said Naidoo is offering work for specific clients and though he is not doing it from Grant Thornton premises, the companies he doing work for were invoicing him through the company: “We are just a channel for Naidoo’s invoices,” Saunders said.
Saunders said this decision was taken because the two women had not so much complained about sexual advances, harassment and innuendo Naidoo directed at them, but had essentially only indicated they were uncomfortable working in the same office as him.
McKaiser reminded Saunders that the company did not have a sexual harassment policy, but a “grievance procedure” that did not even mention “the word sex”, but Saunders denied this.
“I know we did the best we could do for the ladies under the circumstances. We have a 24-hour hotline service and we are there for them and we don’t tolerate sexual harassment. After the hearing was inconclusive, the two ladies thanked our HR,” Saunders claimed.
At one point McKaiser questioned whether Naidoo may be protected due to his connections, especially with government.