This blog was co-authored by Maano Manavhela, Candidate Attorney.

In this case (K.A.B v National Union of Metal Workers of South Africa (NUMSA) and Others (1438/2021) [2023] ZAFSHC 288 (21 July 2023)) the plaintiff instituted a defamation action against the employer after the employer’s supervisor disclosed the plaintiff’s HIV positive status in a work grievance meeting with 14 attendees, colleagues of the plaintiff, including the plaintiff.

The second defendant disclosed the plaintiff’s HIV status in the meeting and later apologised to the plaintiff in the same meeting.

The court had to assess whether the defendants’ disclosure of the plaintiff’s HIV status constitutes defamation and whether the plaintiff’s subjective feelings had been violated and her dignity had been impaired. 

The court held that the defendant’s disclosure of the HIV status of the Plaintiff in a meeting with 14 people should be regarded as public violation of her privacy, dignity, reputation, and therefore defamation. The supervisor’s apology came after the harm had already been done and was delayed. The plaintiff did not consent to the disclosure of her HIV status and that the manner in which the plaintiff testified, even crying during her testimony, clearly showed that the plaintiff sustained injuries to her reputation and dignity.

The court held that the more sensitive the information about a person, the more important it is to protect that information. The disclosure was defamatory of the plaintiff and damages of R100 000.00 were awarded.