Abhishek
Union of India v. Reema Srinivasan Iyengar. (The Sexual Harassment Act, 2013 Cannot be a weapon for claims of misconduct or non-existent allegations: Madras High Court)
Abhishek Rathee 26 Feb 2020

Union of India v. Reema Srinivasan Iyengar. (The Sexual Harassment Act, 2013 Cannot be a weapon for claims of misconduct or non-existent allegations: Madras High Court)

The Sexual Harassment Act, 2013 Cannot be a weapon for claims of misconduct or non-existent allegations: Madras High Court

Case:

Union of India v. Reema Srinivasan Iyengar.

Brief facts:

In the present case, the plaintiff Mr. V.Natarajan was deputy registrar of Trade Mark and GI, in Chennai and the respondent is Mrs. Rema Srinivasan Iyengar, assistant registrar, whom the court referred to in the judgment as the claimant.

On  02. 12. 2013, the respondent lodged a complaint against the petitioner with the Registrar and Controller General of Trade Marks and GI and Patents and Design, complaining about the petitioner's high-hardness and arrogant behavior that hurt her self-respect. The Registrar and Controller General had formed an independent commission on workplace sexual harassment.

On 30.06.2015, the complainant preferred another complaint in which she narrated many instances of the petitioner's rude behaviour, and she mentioned the word "sexual harassment" in the complaint. She wrote the letter to the Tamil Nadu State Commission of Women, expressing her apprehension that the internal committee will not be able to render justice to her, since all those who are part of the committee are subordinate to the petitioner. Hence, her petition should be referred to the local comittee.

Accordingly, the Local Committee was appointed by the Social Welfare Department (Tamil Nadu Government). Meanwhile the complainant's complaints to the internal committee, are posed by taking into account. On 22.12.2015 Smt. Sunita Yadav Director, Department of Industrial Policy and Promotion, Ministry of Commerce and Industry has been appointed as chairperson of the vide letter of the internal committee.

On 30. 12. 2015, the complainant's letter had been forwarded to the Trade Marks Controller General to expedite the inquiry. According to a letter of 25.02.2016 intimating the prosecution process, it was found that the case was made pursuant to section 3(2)(iii)(iv)(v) of the Sexual Harassment of Women at Workplace Act, 2013.

On 28.04.2016, the complainant responded to the Board of District Social Welfare that two simultaneous trials could not be viewed as legally valid. The plaintiff even objected to the new internal committee according to the letter dated 16.11.2016. Because according to the complainant, even if the chairperson is changed, all other members remain the same. So she approached the Central Administrative Tribunal, Madras Bench to declare the internal committee's constitution void. The CAT, madras bench, held that a preliminary inquiry had already been conducted by the Local Committee and that the internal committee established by the employer is against the law because the petitioner himself is head of the department and therefore the complaint against the petitioner should be inquired by the local committee. The complainant who has been dismissed by the Central Administrative Tribunal, Madras Bench, preferred the appeal. The petitioner thus filed a petition in writing against CAT's order, Madras Bench.

Issues:

1)      Whether the preliminary investigation can be carried out in conjunction by the ICC and the local committee?

2)      Whether the findings of the Local Committee which is ex parte need to be complied with?

3)      Whether the original complaint in December 2013 prompted the establishment of a committee to investigate women's sexual harassment in the workplace?

4)      In the strictest sense, whether the person charged was an employer?

Arguments of the petitioner:

·         The plaintiff argued that the defendant was an assistant registrar in a quasi-judicial role and that it was not possible to intervene with her decision making. The complainant was the head of the Chennai office but was subordinate to his New Delhi Superiors and therefore not an employer, and that both the first and second grievances were sent to the New Delhi Registrar and Controller General.

·         The petitioner also claimed that the Registrar and Controller General should not have formed an Internal Committee to investigate sexual harassment complaints in the first place for a generic case with no accusation of sexual harassment in it. The Superiors in the Department could have remedied the complaint.

·         The plaintiff further argued that the complainant's complaint concerning the members of the Internal Committee had been acknowledged by the employer and that a senior lady officer had been made the chairperson Which only demonstrates the employer's bonafide motive and that, instead of respecting the superior officer, the claimant went ahead with an unwarranted petition to the Local Committee. Consequently it should be set aside.

Arguments of the complainant:

·         The complainant's learned counsel called the court's attention to section 2(g) of the 2013 Employer's Sexual Harassment of Women at Workplace (Prevention, Prohibition and Redressal) Act. It was the complainant's contention that since the petitioner was Department Office Administrative Head at Chennai, he must be considered as an employer under the Act.

·         It was further argued that Section 6 of the Act grants the local committee jurisdiction. Local committee is thus the sole authority to attempt this case.

Judgment:

The Court held that the enquiry should not be retrospective under the Sexual Harassment of Women at Workplace (Prevention, Prohibition and Redressal) Act, 2013 ("The Act"), and the accused must be given the opportunity to defend themselves.

The Madras High court further noted :

At the same time, the Sexual Harassment of Women at Workplace (Prevention, Prohibition and Redressal) Act, 2013 also brought in two provisions in order not to deter women from filing complaints. One was that their inability to prove a complaint will not render it false. Secondly, the malicious intent has to be specifically established before disciplinary action is recommended against the complainant.”

The court held the Local Committee's findings unconstitutional, and ruled that the complainant was not the employer. It further mentioned that "This letter fits in with the concept of a complaint of sexual harassment and contains all the ingredients necessary to evaluate an offense

 “The Act”. However, it lacks details of the alleged incidents.”

Section 3(2) of the Act was examined and held to be “a solitary allegation of intemperate language against a female employee does not constitute an offense under the Act”.

It further commented that: “The complainant, it appears, made a futile attempt to settle her personal score with the petitioner. Every office has to maintain 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.”

It is not appropriate for women to exploit the Act to threaten someone with false or non-existent claims.

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