The Madras High Court held that 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.
The division bench comprising Justice M. Sathyanarayanan and Justice R. Hemalatha also opined that the Sexual Harassment of Women at Workplace (Prevention, Prohibition and Redressal) Act, 2013 is intended to have an equal standing for women and the same cannot be misused by women to harass someone.
The writ petition was filed under Article 226 of the Constitution of India to issue a writ of certiorari calling for the records regarding the orders passed by the Central Administrative Tribunal (CAT) Local Complaints Committee against the petitioner and quash the same.
In the instant case, the complainant, Mrs.Rema Srinivasan Iyengar, Assistant Registrar of Trade Mark and GI in Chennai made a complaint on 02.12.2013 against the petitioner, Mr. V.Natarajan the Deputy Registrar of Trade Mark and GI. The complaint was made before the Registrar and Controller General of Trade Marks and GI and Patents and Design.
Mrs. Rema(complainant) complained that the petitioner, V.Natarajan was high handed and hurt her self respect due to his arrogant behavior. The Registrar and Controller General of Patents on receiving the complaint responded vide letter by constituting an Internal Committee on sexual harassment at the workplace.
The complainant preferred another complaint on 30.06.2015 with regard to many incidents about the rude behavior of the petitioner. She mentioned the 'sexual harassment' repeatedly in the said complaint. Further, she also wrote a letter to the Tamil Nadu State Commission for Women stating her apprehension that the Internal Committee would not render justice to her. She also requested to refer her complaint to the Local Complaint Committee (LCC).
Subsequently, the Local Committee constituted a Social Welfare Department where Mrs.Rema appeared and gave a written complaint against Mr.V.Natarajan, the petitioner. A Chairperson for the Sexual Harassment Committee was also appointed by the Director of the Ministry of commerce and industry.
A prima facie case was made out against the petitioner under Section 3(2)(iii)(iv)(v) of the Sexual Harassment of Women at Workplace (Prevention, Prohibition and Redressal) Act, 2013 on the basis of the enquiry conducted by the District Social Welfare Officer with regard to the complaint. Further, the LCC also recommended an immediate and detailed departmental enquiry against Mr.V.Natarajan.
The petitioner replied to the District Social Welfare Officer stating that he should also be heard and also that two parallel proceedings cannot be construed as it is not legally valid.
The court, in this case, observed that the original complaint made by the complainant was generic in nature.
"It elaborated upon how the petitioner was authoritative and also to some extent biased in his action and decisions.", added the court.
The bench remarked that the second complaint though it did not mention the date and sequence of events, it did talk about the physical advances made by Mr.V.Natarajan and also his lewd remarks on Mrs. Rema's physical appearances.
It was noted that the LCC concluded that there is a prima facie case without questioning the original complaint since it does not give an iota of what is stated in the second complaint.
The court further noted that the word 'sexual harassment' has been mentioned repeatedly in the second complaint without even describing it.
"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."
The court opined that it is mandatory for the person accused to be provided an opportunity to defend himself since it is well settled under the Sexual Harassment of Women at Workplace (Prevention, Prohibition and Redressal) Act, 2013 that the enquiry has to be a full-fledged one.
"Section 14 of the Sexual Harassment of Women at Workplace (Prevention, Prohibition and Redressal) Act, 2013, provides for penalising the complainant if the complaint is found to be false with malicious intent. Section 14 of the Act was to check false complaints. 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.", said the court.
The court said the findings of the LCC are invalid and the contention of the complainant that she approached the LCC only because the complaint was against her employer is an afterthought.
The court also noted that the intemperate language used by the petitioner was the essence of the first complaint other than the bias and favoritism he allegedly exhibited.
"Therefore, 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."
In addition to this, the court also opined that the dissenting attitude of the complainant in not attending the Internal Committee hearing and the transformation of the original complaint into a sexual harassment one before the LCC expose the real intentions of the complainant.
"In the instant case, the Local Committee gave an erroneous decision with a non speaking order which is also exparte. The complainant, it appears, made a futile attempt to settle her personal score with the petitioner", said the court.
The court remarked that every woman has to maintain certain decorum and they are not allowed to scot-free without completing their assignment.
"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 work place 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."
While allowing the petition, the court quashed both the orders passed by the Local Complaint Committee and by the Central Administrative Tribunal.
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