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Sexual Harassment At Workplace - Impossible To Ignore How Easily 'Common Woman' Is Put Down By 'Common Man', Less Said Better About Third Gender: Delhi High Court

Sparsh Upadhyay
17 Dec 2020 11:57 AM GMT
Sexual Harassment At Workplace - Impossible To Ignore How Easily Common Woman Is Put Down By Common Man, Less Said Better About Third Gender: Delhi High Court
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"It is impossible not to notice all around us, how easily the 'common woman' is put down by the 'common man'. Less said the better of what happens to the Third Gender!"

In a significant ruling, the Delhi High Court on Thursday (17th December) held that when a woman makes allegations of sexual harassment against her male colleague for, her credibility is not diminished because of such pending disciplinary proceedings against her. The Bench of Justice Rajiv Sahai Endlaw and Justice Asha Menon further observed that even if she has been subjected...

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In a significant ruling, the Delhi High Court on Thursday (17th December) held that when a woman makes allegations of sexual harassment against her male colleague for, her credibility is not diminished because of such pending disciplinary proceedings against her.

The Bench of Justice Rajiv Sahai Endlaw and Justice Asha Menon further observed that even if she has been subjected to penalties, so long as there is nothing to show that the officer who imposed the punishment has been targeted by her by filing a complaint of sexual harassment against him, such punishments or proceedings cannot have any bearing on the inquiry into a sexual harassment complaint.

The matte before the Court

The Complainant/victim's filed a complaint against the respondent No.3/ O.P.Verma wherein she complained that the respondent No.3/ O.P.Verma was repeatedly subjecting her to sexual harassment by using inappropriate language with sexual overtones.

Particularly, an incident which allegedly took place 07th July 2011 was referred to by the Complainant, wherein some objectionable words were used by the respondent No.3/ O.P.Verma.

As the inquiry was conducted before the enactment of the Sexual Harassment of Women at Workplace (Prevention, Prohibition and Redressal) Act, 2013, so naturally, it was conducted was under the "Vishaka Guidelines" issued by the Supreme Court in Vishaka and Ors. vs. State of Rajasthan and Ors. (1997) 6 SCC 241.

The Complaints Committee examined all witnesses and submitted a report on 20th January, 2012 that the incident of 7th July, 2011 had actually happened even though the content of the communication could not be established.

It also concluded that the other incidents could not be established in the absence of substantive evidence as there were no direct witnesses.

Therefore, the Complaints Committee granted the benefit of doubt to the respondent No.3/O.P.Verma.

Appellant's contentions

According to the appellant, the aforesaid decision was not communicated to her and it was only on 3rd July, 2013 in response to an RTI query that she learnt of the decision.

She filed an appeal but was also not again communicated the result of that appeal. In the meanwhile, respondent No.3/O.P.Verma retired.

She, therefore, filed the writ petition challenging the recommendation of 20th January, 2012 but the same was dismissed by the learned Single Judge.

The appellant had, in her plea, questioned this transfer by means of the writ petition filed by her and had also sought an independent internal departmental inquiry against the respondent No.3/O.P.Verma as well as directions for criminal prosecution against him instead of the transfer.

Single Judge Bench Order

However, the Single Judge Bench had, in its order, observed,

"This Court is of the view that the complaint dated 8th July, 2011of the petitioner appears to be false...During the inquiry proceedings, the petitioner could not give the name of any person present at the time of the incidents…It is not believable that the petitioner would not remember the names of any colleague/staff member…The entire complaint of the petitioner appears to be false and has been filed with some ulterior motive."

The Single Bench imposed costs of Rs.50,000/- upon the appellant and also directed the respondent No.2 to initiate proceedings against her.

However, the Division Bench of the Court set aside both these directions, particularly in the light of the finding of the Complaints Committee that the incident complained of had actually taken place and had, therefore, recommended transfer of both the appellant as well as the respondent No.3/O.P.Verma.

High Court's Observations

While noting that "sexual harassment is a serious issue that needs to be addressed at all workplaces urgently and sensitively", the Court said,

"Gender conditioning where the man develops a superiority complex, while the woman doubts her own capacity, starts very early in life. It need not be in the form of a tutorial, but certainly as subtle data to the minds of young children, about their privileges or lack of it. The privileges also come in the opportunities to develop personality, confidence, intelligence and skills."

Importantly, the Court said,

"It is impossible not to notice all around us, how easily the 'common woman' is put down by the 'common man'. Less said the better of what happens to the Third Gender!"

In an important observation, the Court also said,

"There is no gainsaying that it is this gender conditioning that leads men to abuse, ill-treat or become violent towards women and TGs or treat them disparagingly and with condescension."

Observations regarding the Complaints Committee

The Court observed that the 'Internal Complaints Committee' is intended as a platform to provide an environment of confidence to the complainant and not to doubt the veracity of the complaint or view the complainant with suspicion.

Since the Committee had, in its report, concluded that there was no eyewitness to the incident, the Court, in its order said,

"The absence of eyewitnesses to the incident cannot detract from the credibility of the complainant as her statement is to be considered independently to determine whether it has a ring of truth or not."

Significantly, regarding the standard of proof, the Court said,

"The high standard of proof required in criminal trials is not called for during an inquiry by the Internal Complaints Committee under the Act."

The Court further said that a woman who is perturbed by an action of a male colleague, either through words, gestures or action "cannot be expected to have such clarity of thought, to know who all were present at the time of the incident, and who all may have witnessed the incident and remember their names and faces."

In this context, the Court said that in the instant case, "the Complaints Committee did misdirect itself in insisting on corroboration and testimonies of other witnesses."

Regarding the Committee's decision to order the transfer the Complainant, the Court said that "the transfer of the complainant should be only if she seeks it or when she has been found to have filed a false complaint."

Lastly, the Court also observed that it is imperative to have a strong redressal system in the organization as that would also protect the male workforce and officials from vexatious complaints and also give them the opportunity to explain their conduct and action before a more restricted and confidential Forum.

Court's decision

The impugned judgement to the extent it concluded that the complaint of the appellant was false, and imposed a cost of Rs.50,000/- and recommended to the respondent No.2 initiation of disciplinary action against the appellant, was set aside. The appeal was accordingly allowed.

Case title - Ms. X v. Union Of India & Others [LPA 527/2019]
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