After months of negotiations, Malawi Broadcasting Corporation (MBC) has agreed to pay K48.8 million to four female employees who were allegedly sexually harassed by the institution’s former director general Aubrey Sumbuleta.
The public broadcaster has also reinstated two of the women that left the station in relation with the issue.
MBC director general George Kasakula confirmed in an interview the development saying they negotiated downwards the initial figure which the injured parties demanded through their lawyers.
However, Kasakula could not divulge the initial amount the women demanded saying “these were private discussions between the victims’ lawyers and ourselves so we agreed that as the final figure plus K2 million fees for the lawyers.”
The Malawi Human Rights Commission (MHRC), as per its constitutional and statutory mandate, initiated investigations into allegations of sexual harassment and found Sumbuleta guilty of sexually harassing the female employees. The commission then recommended compensation to the women.
A team of female lawyers under Women Lawyers Association (WLA) of Malawi supported the victims through the process at the MHRC hearings as well as negotiating the settlement. The victims did not pay any professional or legal fees to the lawyers.
The team included Bernadette Malunga, Ngcime Mweso, Chisomo Kaufulu, Gloria Mbendera, Chikondi Chijozi and Hilda Soko.
In an interview, Chijozi said they supported the victims because they wanted justice for the survivors and the settlement was an acknowledgment that what happened to the women was wrong.
“We are glad that MBC as an employer, through this settlement, is taking responsibility and also sending a message to other employers to do better,” she said.
Chijozi said the compensation takes into account the pain, suffering and financial loss of the survivors as recognised by the law in such cases.
The victims sued MBC because at the time of the incident, the corporation had no sexual harassment policy or proper mechanisms to allow survivors of harassment to effectively report abuses.
“Employers have a duty to ensure safe working environment for their employees and that includes protection from sexual harassment, which MBC failed at the time. This is why the women had to seek redress from MBC.
“The employer has a legal obligation under the contract to protect its female employees. There is an implied contractual term relating to mutual trust, confidence to protect the employees from acts of sexual harassment.
“Where the employer fails to treat an allegation of sexual harassment seriously, the courts have found that there is a breach of that implied contractual term relating to mutual trust and confidence,” explained Chijozi who is also a commissioner at MHRC.
She said following the settlement, the women will not pursue any civil claims against Sumbuleta in his personal capacity.