Grant Thornton South Africa CEO resigns, former director takes legal action

03 July 2018 Authored by Consultancy.co.za

Following a fresh set of sexual assault allegations – this time being leveled directly at him – the CEO of Grant Thornton South Africa Paul Badrick has announced his resignation. Meanwhile, the victim in the original case against Vernon Naidoo –  Nerisha Singh – has initiated legal action to ensure the firm is held accountable for the events. 

Grant Thornton Johannesburg has been embroiled in controversy since early this year, when reports broke of the Head of Forensic Services Vernon Naidoo engaging in sexually inappropriate behaviour with two members of the team on two separate occasions.

The consulting firm’s response to the allegations caused as much outrage as the scandal itself. The helplessness reported by the victims of the assault exposed the lack of a redressal system for such cases at the firm, and matters were made worse by the fact that one of the victims was dismissed from the firm after speaking out on a radio show.

After Naidoo was exposed and handed in his resignation, further reports emerged that Grant Thornton had continued to conduct limited business with him to conclude the contracts that he had been active on.

In response to these reports, CEO at the firm Paul Badrick eventually issued a public apology, stating: "On behalf of Grant Thornton Johannesburg, I would like to apologise to the two former employees involved. I have tried to reach out to Nerisha by telephone, but I have not been able to reach her yet. I would like to speak to both of them directly to convey my regrets and those of all their colleagues,” adding that “it was a mistake for us to allow the accused former director to perform limited services with clients in which he was personally involved after he had left the firm.”Paul Badrick and Nerisha Singh - Grant ThorntonBadrick himself was at the receiving end of sexual assault allegations in 2015, which have now been reinforced by fresh complaints made against him during this latest investigation. A statement issued by the firm has now confirmed that the new allegations are now being probed, and that Badrick has stepped down from his position so as to allow inquiries to proceed.

Legal action

The chair of Grant Thornton Johannesburg’s board, Serena Ho is expected to temporarily fill in for Badrick, and her first major challenge has emerged immediately. One of the victims, former Director in the firm's Forensics division Nerisha Singh (referred to in Badrick’s quote), has now taken legal action against the firm.

Singh’s attorney, Natasha Moni, said that the objective of the action is to ensure that Grant Thornton is held responsible for the “sexual harassment, harassment, victimisation, secondary victimisation of [Singh], including failure to protect her, because of being a complainant of sexual harassment.”

Singh’s grievances pertain to the fact that Naidoo had a history of misconduct recorded in the firm’s HR logs, which was not acted upon. She also blames the firm for the derailing of her career, after she felt compelled to resign due to Naidoo’s “intolerable” behaviour.

Moni added, “To date, there has been no apology to (Singh), and it is not clear exactly what Grant Thornton is apologising for in the public statements released by them. (Singh) reiterates that if Grant Thornton is truly sorry, they must make amends properly, with the requisite pecuniary advances, taking full responsibility for what has happened to (Singh) and the tatters her career is now in.”

The case adds another dimension to the ongoing debate in South Africa around gender diversity in the workplace. Currently, a large portion of firms in the country don't have women in senior roles, referred to by management consultancy Bain & Company as a glass ceiling for women in business. Singh's case represents yet another barrier that women regularly face to thriving in the workplace. 

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