Western Cape transport MEC Robin Carlisle and his former spokesman Steven Otter are engaged in a legal tussle, amid allegations that Mr Otter was "unlawfully" transferred to another department because of his vegetarian diet and the fact that he does not drink alcohol.

Mr Otter has taken Mr Carlisle to the Cape Town Labour Court, in what could be a watershed case touching on the perceived effect of lifestyle choices on one's performance at work.

From affidavits seen by the Business Day, Mr Otter and the head of Mr Carlisle's office, Hector Eliott - listed as the third respondent - appear to be at loggerheads on the exact reasons for his transfer.

In his affidavit Mr Otter states that the second respondent, Mr Carlisle, was unhappy about his vegetarian diet and the fact that he does not consume alcohol. The transport department is cited as the first respondent.

"On 10 May 2012 I addressed an e-mail to Mr Eliott seeking clarity on what the perceived problem was with my diet..

"Mr Eliott responded via an e-mail the content of which clearly indicates that the second respondent (Mr Carlisle) was unhappy with my diet and the fact that I do not consume alcohol," Mr Otter said in his affidavit.

"It then dawned upon me that in the absence of any problem with my work performance the only problem seemed to be related to my vegetarianism, and non-consumption of alcohol".

Mr Otter said in his affidavit that he had found it "perplexing" that Mr Carlisle had a problem with his being a teetotaller, given that "the second respondent had spearheaded the Western Cape's Safety Home Campaign, one of the chief goals of which was to reduce drunk driving on the roads".

"On 11 May 2012 I approached Mr Eliott in his office to discuss his and (Mr Carlisle's) attitude with reference to my eating habits.

"Instead of simply accepting my vegetarianism Mr Eliott proceeded to debate the value of my preference for a vegetarian lifestyle and once again ended up swearing at me", Mr Otter said.

He further contends i that his transfer to a position within the premier's office was a demotion and was procedurally unfair and irregular "since it all stemmed from Mr Carlisle's and Mr Eliott's clear and unjustified bias against my lifestyle".

However, in his opposing affidavit, Mr Eliott says the reason for Mr Otter's removal from his post as spokesman was that "the minister (Mr Carlisle) and other officials had come to the realisation that it would be extremely difficult to maintain a satisfactory working relationship with the applicant (Mr Otter)".

Mr Eliott stated in his affidavit that Mr Otter had failed to execute his duties satisfactorily. The case will be heard later this month.

phakathib@bdfm.co.za