Mark Lamberti, Imperial CEO. Picture: MARTIN RHODES
Mark Lamberti, Imperial CEO. Picture: MARTIN RHODES

Newly appointed Eskom board member and Imperial Holdings CEO Mark Lamberti says he "deeply regrets" that he upset a senior black female staff member by calling her a "female employment equity" appointment in front of other managers.

Imperial said it had not been Lamberti’s intention to "insult or demean" the former staff member in any way and he apologised "unreservedly".

The statement followed a North Gauteng Court ruling that Lamberti had impaired the dignity of Adila Chowan‚ a highly qualified and experienced staff member.

Chowan told TimesLIVE: "I’m a professional person. I was offered a settlement to drop this case‚ but for me this matter was not about money. It wasn’t just about me. I really hope other people will think twice before they make such comments."

Eskom has said it is studying the verdict against Lamberti‚ who was allegedly heavily involved in the disciplinary process launched against Chowan after she lodged a grievance about his conduct. She was summarily suspended after she lodged the complaint — a move the High Court found was not plausibly explained by Imperial Group senior leadership.

Chowan‚ a former employee at Imperial’s subsidiary‚ Associated Motor Holdings (AMH)‚ brought a court application against Lamberti last year after she was fired in September 2015 over allegations of misconduct. The North Gauteng High Court has now found her to be a credible witness‚ who gave reliable evidence about how she was sidelined from being appointed as company chief financial officer — despite promises made to her by Lamberti.

The court found that Chowan proved she had suffered damages as a result of Lamberti and AMH’s conduct. They had tried and failed to have her claim thrown out of court.

Chowan said Lamberti had made her feel like the only reason she had been employed within the Imperial Group was because she was an "employment equity employee". "I had built my career. I had been a chief financial officer. I had acted as a CEO. All those achievements were not being recognised‚ apart from the fact that I was now being objectified in terms of being a female employment equity candidate‚" she testified.

Chowan lodged grievances about Lamberti’s comment‚ saying she wanted him to apologise. She further complained about group chief financial officer Ockert Janse van Rensburg‚ who she said suggested to her that she had been given a brown company car because it matched her skin. He allegedly said he had a white vehicle because it matched his skin. Janse van Rensburg denied saying this‚ but the court has found this denial "implausible".

Judge Pieter Meyer said it was indisputable — based on AMH’s almost entirely white male senior management at the time of Chowan’s employment — that the company had "fared very badly in redressing the imbalances and wrongs of the past".

Lamberti’s lawyers had claimed that Chowan wasn’t given the position of chief financial officer as she was inexperienced. In a statement released on Tuesday morning‚ Imperial maintained that there were "no findings of race or gender discrimination against AMH‚ Imperial and Mark Lamberti".

This was despite the fact that the High Court had found Chowan’s "inference of racial and gender discrimination against her" based on facts before the court was "justified".

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