It will certainly be among the top under-reported stories by Kenya’s much-vaunted media this year. And the Catholic University of Eastern Africa, the oldest and largest private university in Kenya, can now thank the heavens for averting a mighty PR disaster.
Only the little read Business Daily, owned by the regional giant Nation Media Group, carried the heart-wrenching story of how CUEA subjected a HIV-positive worker at the institution to cruel and degrading treatment for seven long years.
In the end, the unnamed woman was sacked by Fr John Maviiri, the Ugandan priest who is the immediate former vice-chancellor of the Nairobi-based university.
In March 2010, through a letter backdated to August 2009, the priest dismissed the casual worker. “Wishing you God’s blessings in your future endeavours. Yours sincerely, in the name of God’s Family,” said Prof Maviiri in the letter.
The woman sued the university for discrimination and illegal dismissal. The court ruled in her favour last week and ordered CUEA to pay her Sh6.9 million (over $79,000) in compensation.
Industrial Court Judge Nduma Nderi said CUEA subjected the worker to cruel and degrading treatment over a period of seven years due to her HIV status.
Mr Nderi said that the university denied the worker permanent employment and sacked her because of her medical status, which he noted was discriminatory and inhuman.
“The court is fortified by this decision in holding unequivocally that the decision not to employ the claimant on permanent terms, and the final decision to terminate her employment were discriminatory in that they were solely based on the claimant’s HIV status,” observed Mr Nderi.
The worker was hired as a casual with a monthly salary of Sh7,000 ($80) in 2000. In April 2003 she attended an interview for a permanent position.
She was recommended for appointment but it was put off after a mandatory medical examination at the university’s facility revealed that she was HIV positive.
She claimed that she was told the news without any prior counselling. Having lost the opportunity she continued to serve as a casual and all the time the university did not advise her to enrol her for national health service and social security schemes until 2006 when she was offered a one year contract and her salary was adjusted to Sh26,171 ($300).
The contract was renewed annually until March 2010 when she was sacked, shortly after she returned from maternity leave.
CUEA is owned by the Association of Member Episcopal Conferences of Eastern Africa (AMECEA), a regional body of Catholic bishops’ conferences. Its headquarters are in Nairobi. AMECEA’s current chairman is Tarcisius Ziyaye, Archbishop of Blantyre, Malawi.