Solitary allegation of intemperate language against a female employee not an offence under Sexual Harassment Act, 2013

UOI Vs Rema Srinivasan Iyengar

Madras HC

17/02/2020

WP.Nos.10689 of 2019

About/from the judgment:

The Madras High Court recently cautioned against misuse of sexual harassment laws, observing that the Sexual Harassment Act, 2013 cannot be misused to harass people with "with an exaggerated or non existent allegations."

 

In this regard, the court observed,

 

Though the Sexual Harassment of Women at Workplace (Prevention, Prohibition and Redressal) Act, 2013 is intended to have an equal standing for women in the workplace and to have a cordial workplace in which their dignity and self-respect are protected, it cannot be allowed to be misused by women to harass some one with an exaggerated or non existent allegations.

Madras High Court

 

While deciding on the case at hand, the Bench was also prompted to observe that,

 

A solitary allegation of intemperate language against a female employee does not constitute an offence under the Sexual Harassment of Women at Workplace (Prevention, Prohibition and Redressal) Act, 2013.

Madras High Court

 

In the case at hand, the Court found that the original complaint was generic in nature, detailing the high-handedness of the petitioner in the office. It did not contain any sexual harassment allegations.

 

This was found to be in sharp contrast to the written complaint, submitted later, which talked about physical advances and lewd remarks made by the petitioner against her. The Court, however, noted that the subsequent complaint was devoid of details, dates and sequences of events.

 

The complaint repeatedly mentioned the word 'sexual harassment' without describing it” the Bench opined, going on to take critical note that "It gives an appearance as to that instructing a woman employee to do something officially or even scolding a woman employee itself is sexual harassment."

 

Disagreeing with the approach taken by the complainant in addressing her grievances, the Court observed,

 

“Every office has to maintain a certain decorum and women employees cannot be allowed to go scot-free without completing their assignments. The Administrative Head or the Chief has every right to extract work and he or she has his or her own discretion and prerogatives. If a woman employee is discriminated against due to her inefficiency or for any other official reasons, the recourse for her is not the one taken by this complainant.”

Madras High Court

 

In this case, the Bench noted that the intemperate language used by the petitioner was the essence of the first complaint, other than the bias and favouritism he allegedly exhibited.

 

In such a scenario, the Court opined that there was not need to constitute an inquiry committee under the Sexual Harassment Act in the first place.

 

Deciphering the intent behind the complaints, it was held that they were made with a malicious intent and to settle personal scores with the petitioner.

 

Additionally, the Bench also found that the accused-Petitioner could not be termed as the ‘employer’ to be proceeded under the Sexual Harassment Act, 2013.

 

Moreover, the Court opined that the Sexual Harassment Act, in any case, required a full-fledged enquiry.

 

In this case, an order by a Local Committee directing departmental proceedings against the petitioner were found to be based on prima facie conclusions arrived at without appreciating the discrepancy between the original and subsequent complaints. The Court was also informed that the order was passed ex parte.

 

The Court said that “It is well settled that under the Sexual Harassment of Women at Workplace (Prevention, Prohibition and Redressal) Act, 2013, the enquiry has to be a full fledged one, not a preliminary one. It is also mandatory for the person accused to be provided an opportunity to defend himself.”

 

In view of these observations, the Court proceeded to rule in the petitioner's favour, while quashing a Central Administrative Tribunal order which upheld a Local Committee proceedings in the matter.

Read the Judgment

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