News24

Bullard appeal back in council

2009-06-22 20:07

Johannesburg - Former Sunday Times columnist David Bullard's appeal against his dismissal was referred back to a statutory council in the Labour Court in Johannesburg on Monday.

The case was initially scheduled to be heard by a council but then Bullard decided to take his former employer, Avusa Media Ltd, to the Labour Court in a bid to get his job back.

"The matter is referred to the statutory council and there is no order to costs," said Judge Ellem Jacob Francis, after a 10 minute adjournment to decide on the matter.

Bullard and Avusa would have to pay their own legal fees as Francis made no costs order.

Bullard was fired in April last year after he wrote a column headlined "Uncolonised Africa wouldn't know what it was missing".

He was accused of being racist and fired by newspaper editor Mondli Makhanya over the phone five days after the column was published.

Court experience

Dressed in a navy striped suit, a white shirt and a red striped tie, Bullard looked relaxed as his arrived at court with his legal representatives.

"I am not here for money, even if there is a settlement, that money would be given to charity - the people who need it. I am here to clear my name of the horrible experience," Bullard told Sapa.

"And I'm also here for experience, I have never been to court before," he added.

The case was called after lengthy negotiations between the two legal teams outside court.
Bullard's attorney, Ari Soldatos, opened the arguments by stating that there were three issues which needed to be dealt with, starting with "whether my client was a Sunday Times employee or not".

Soldatos said the second issue was whether the matter should have gone for arbitration.

"The third issue is the one raised by the respondent that it can't be an unfair dismissal case because it was not necessarily unfair as an apology was tendered by the applicant."

Soldatos was referring to the apology published in the Business Day on April 18, 2008 where Bullard apologised to the Sunday Times readers, Makhanya and the nation.

"He felt it was proper, fair and that an apology was warranted," Soldatos said.

From council to court

He requested that the case be referred to the statutory council and that the newspaper should pay their legal fees for Monday as they had brought up the issue late.

Avusa's lawyer, Puke Maseremole, argued that the matter was before the statutory council before but Bullard had written a letter to the council asking for the matter to be set down as he intended to go to the labour court.

"The matter was removed from the roll because it could not be pending before the council and be before the labour court. This was not a mistake," Maseremole said.

Apology


Maseremole further argued that when Bullard wrote the apology he had "accepted that the opinion he had expressed should not have been expressed. He had taken it back".

He said Bullard had taken a position to come to court and expose his former employer.

"When the issue of an apology came to light last week Friday, we wrote to the applicant advising him to withdraw the matter because it can't be unfair dismissal."

Maseremole asked the judge to strike the matter off the roll and that Bullard be made to pay all their legal costs as he had intentionally taken the matter to court instead of the right forum [the statutory council] where it was before.

Soldatos hit back, saying it should not be forgotten that the respondent filed an answering statement on the unfair dismissal in July 2008, while it knew about the apology.

SAPA