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ImperialBusiness Times reports that Adila Chowan, who successfully sued Imperial CEO Mark Lamberti in a race and gender discrimination suit in the high court, claims that she cannot find full-time work because her former boss has given her negative references.  In addition, she says that while Lamberti has apologised for his actions in public press releases, he has not contacted her to personally apologise.

Lamberti last week resigned from Eskom's board, to which he was appointed in December, and his position as a director at Business Leadership South Africa hangs in the balance.

Last month the High Court in Johannesburg found that Chowan's dignity had been impaired when Lamberti labelled her an employment equity candidate who needed four years in development before taking on a C-suite role.

Later, he allegedly told one of his direct reports that he did not believe Chowan had what it took to be a chief financial officer, although he had promised that she would have a senior role in the company in 12 months from the time of their conversation.

This was despite the fact that she was 42 years old at the time and had acted as the CFO numerous times and is a chartered accountant.

She had been recommended as CFO by another group executive, but the role instead went to a white hire after the job was put out to an extensive executive search once Lamberti joined the company.

Only white men were shortlisted for the role. When Chowan remarked that she didn't like the shade of a car assigned to her, the man who got the job told her "the colour of the car suits your skin".

Last week Chowan told Business Times:  "[Lamberti] has not apologised to me and in his public apologies you have to ask what he is apologising for.  He has given me negative references and destroyed my career."  Lamberti denied he had given Chowan negative references. He said he had received a single request for a reference which he had passed on to a colleague to handle.

Chowan said she had been able to find only contract work since her suspension from Imperial when she complained about racial and gender discrimination.

She said she was happy with the judgment and considered it a fair reflection of what had happened. "It shines a light on what happens in corporate South Africa and lots of people have come to me for advice [after the judgment]."

The court has yet to decide on a final financial damages claim for Chowan, but it has awarded costs against the company.

Lamberti denies that the court found race or gender discrimination, but he apologised for the impairment of Chowan's dignity.

Imperial's investor relations manager, Esha Mansingh, said: "Mr Lamberti deeply regrets that his comments were upsetting to Mrs Chowan. It was not his intention to insult or demean her in any way and he apologises unreservedly.

Read this report by Ferial Haffajee, which appeared on page 7 of Business Times of 15 April 2018, in full at BL Premium (paywall access)


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