Stellenbosch wine farm ordered to pay R800,000 to employee it fired when she gave birth to baby

The Cape Town Industrial Court has ordered Quoin Rock Wines to repay former chief financial officer Melissa Brendt R800,000 for unfair dismissal related to her pregnancy.

  • A wine company in Stellenbosch has been ordered to pay back 800,000 rand to its former financial director – 16 months’ salary – for unfair dismissal linked to her pregnancy.
  • CEO Denis Gaiduk stated several reasons for Brendt’s dismissal, including the fact that she did not take work calls while hospitalized with her newborn baby.
  • He said he couldn’t understand how Brendt wasn’t taking work calls but taking time for a “photo shoot with his baby.”

The Cape Town Industrial Court has ordered Quoin Rock Wines to repay former chief financial officer Melissa Brendt R800,000 for unfair dismissal related to her pregnancy.

Brendt became pregnant in September 2019 after receiving IVF treatment and informed company CEO Denis Gaiduk on January 3, 2020 that she would go on maternity leave on May 31 this year.

On May 14, she was to officially hand over to an employee who would take up her duties during her 4-month maternity leave. However, she was hospitalized two days prior due to complications from her pregnancy.

She and the newborn remained in the hospital until May 28. They were released on June 12. She made the transfer on June 15.

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According to the court ruling, she worked from the hospital before the transfer and took business calls.

Brendt and her child were again hospitalized on June 25, after which she informed Gaiduk that she would no longer be involved in day-to-day operations until her maternity leave ended on October 1.

This sparked frustrations from Gaiduk, who said he couldn’t understand why Brendt wasn’t available to work when she could do photoshoots with her newborn baby.

She testified that Gaiduk said she hadn’t thought of him when she dumped him and went on maternity leave… In June, she told him that her baby’s health was the most important thing to her.

When her maternity leave ended, she returned to work but was ordered not to return as there was no longer a job for her.

On October 4, she received a notice of dismissal, which she contested. The company offered to reinstate her for a lower salary of R29,000 as a “cost-cutting measure”, a reduction of R21,000.

He was also told that his position had become superfluous because the work had been shared between Gaiduk and the finance department employees.

In his testimony, Gaiduk said Brendt’s pregnancy took him by surprise as “she didn’t have a boyfriend”.

He said he was frustrated with Brendt’s absence, even when she initially worked from home.

“You can’t say you’re working from home and you don’t have time,” he said, adding that he was in a “bad emotional state because of Covid-19”.

The court concluded that Gaiduk did not understand his obligation as an employer. He also reviewed testimony from a finance worker who had complained to Brendt about the workload, saying it proved her role had not become redundant.

The court ruled that Brendt had done his best under the circumstances and that his unavailability at times did not justify Gaiduk putting his job at risk.


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