Kanthan Pillay ‘wins’ long legal battle

2014-11-01 00:00

THE former chief financial officer at the University of KwaZulu-Natal, Professor Kanthan Pillay, has claimed a triumph after a seven-year battle with his former employer over his controversial dismissal from the institution in 2007.

The Durban Labour Court found this week that Pillay’s dismissal had been procedurally unfair. It ordered the university to pay his full legal costs and to pay him for loss of income.

The university hit back yesterday, Legal Services director Paul Finden saying that UKZN would appeal the judgment. “That court did not find that he had been unfairly dismissed. The substantive fairness of his dismissal was never an issue before that court. That was resolved some years ago by the Labour Court and that decision has been confirmed by both the Labour Court of Appeal and the Supreme Court of Appeal.”

Finden said the current ruling referred to the procedural fairness of the decision to dismiss Pillay. He said this did not affect the dismissal itself, and that UKZN would appeal the matter.

Pillay viewed the university’s response as “playing with semantics” and pointed to the judgment. Acting Labour Court Judge AJ Fourie noted the acrimony surrounding the matter, UKZN’s failure to comply with natural justice rules, the reliance on an anonymous e-mail and the victimisation of Pillay.

The saga had its genesis in a sex and corruption scandal that rocked the university. Pillay was dismissed after a disciplinary hearing on the grounds that his relationship with UKZN vice-chancellor Professor Malegapuru Makgoba had broken down completely.

His disciplinary hearing had its roots in an earlier scandal, when the supervisor of his Masters dissertation and colleague, Professor Pumela Msweli-Mbanga, had alleged that the chairperson of UKZN’s executive committee, Professor Vincent Maphai, had sexually harassed her.

Later, an anonymous e-mail sent to university authorities alleged that Pillay was having an affair with Msweli-Mbanga. The e-mail said that as the supervisor of his Masters thesis, she had overlooked a number of irregularities in the document and had awarded him his degree.

The degree was withdrawn and both Pillay and Msweli-Mbanga were dismissed. They fought back. The CCMA found in favour of Msweli-Mbanga, but upheld Pillay’s dismissal.

For Pillay, a crucial aspect of the Labour Court’s ruling was that three key figures who had given evidence against him in previous inquiries had not recused themselves, but actively participated in the council vote to dismiss him.

Pillay said he is determined to continue in his efforts to clear his name.

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