Topbet manager fired over 'humiliating' search for menstrual blood

2018-03-07 19:38
Magistrate's Court. (Duncan Alfreds, News24)

Magistrate's Court. (Duncan Alfreds, News24)

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Cape Town – Two people were arrested in connection with allegations that women at Topbet gambling in Germiston were "strip-searched" after menstrual blood was found in one of the company's bathrooms, a police spokesperson said on Wednesday.

"The charge is sexual assault," Ekurhuleni cluster police spokesperson Captain Andre de Jager told News24.

He said the two appeared in the Germiston Magistrate's Court on February 9 and February 23 and were granted bail, They have to appear again on March 29. 

De Jager said the person who reported the incident to police alleged that female employees were told to take off their clothes so that they could be checked for signs of menstruation.

"They were apparently touched," said De Jager.

Company 'devastated'

During a highly charged interview with Eyewitness News, one employee said she was among a group of female employees who were checked.

Topbet, which takes bets on horse racing and sports events, said in a subsequent statement it was devastated by the incident, which goes against its company ethos.

"Topbet is a women-run and owned business and we consider women's rights and our valued employees' constitutional rights to privacy, dignity, freedom and security, and bodily and psychological integrity of paramount importance," the company said in a statement issued on its behalf by a communications company.

"One of our core values is to create a safe and happy working environment for all of our staff, most of whom are women.

"We have been devastated to learn of the incident that occurred at our Germiston branch and wish to address some of the allegations in the media in the statement that follows."

The company denies that any of the women searched were physically touched, but described the incident as "degrading" and "inhumane".

Whistleblower suspended

The manager who initiated the search was fired, trauma counselling has been offered to all staff, and the company has initiated an overhaul of its human resources practices and procedures for whistleblowers to safely report problems. It will also facilitate training to "empower" younger female staff members.

"We are extremely grateful to the senior employee for bringing this traumatic event to our attention," said Topbet.

However, the employee who reported the matter was suspended on full pay, for reasons the company will not disclose.

The trouble started when a search was conducted after blood was found on the seat of a toilet in the women's bathroom at the Germiston branch.

The company explained that after allegations that the women were ordered to strip and be "searched", it asked labour lawyers Lee Wrench Attorneys to investigate.

The lawyers' preliminary report indicated that the search was conducted by on-site female cleaners on the instruction of a female branch manager "without the knowledge or authorisation of Topbet management".

Commission for Gender Equality to investigate

The report concluded that pregnant and older employees were not searched, and that all employees interviewed said they were not physically touched.

However, "rightfully, most felt very uncomfortable during this humiliating process", it said.

"Following the investigation, a decision was taken to immediately suspend the branch manager responsible," said Topbet.

Before this could be done, the manager was arrested after a senior employee laid a complaint, and 10 days later, a second charge was laid against one of the cleaning staff members involved in the incident. That staff member was also arrested.

The company said the charges were rape, but De Jager said the charges were sexual assault.

"The branch manager responsible for initiating the search has subsequently been dismissed with immediate effect," said Topbet.

Meanwhile, the Commission for Gender Equality (CGE) has resolved to conduct its own investigation, in line with the powers it has in terms of the Constitution, and commended the media for reporting on gender issues.

"The CGE will welcome extensive reports or evidence that may help strengthen this investigation, particularly women workers affected by the alleged sexual harassment and human rights violation, to phone our toll free number 0800 007 709 or alternatively our head office at 011 403 7182."

Read more on:    johannesburg  |  sexual assault

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