Intemperate Language and Sexual Harassment at Workplace

Kerala HC clarifies that there is a difference between Intemperate Language and Sexual Harassment at Workplace


The judgment in K.P. Anil Rajagopal Vs. State of Kerala and Ors. (W.P. (C) No. 13811 of 2016 (B)) pertains to a writ petition challenging an order from an Inquiry Committee directing the Petitioner to apologize to the Complainant (R6) under the Sexual Harassment of Women at Workplace (Prevention, Prohibition and Redressal) Act, 2013. The court set aside a directive for an apology, ruling that the committee’s findings exceeded its powers, as there was no specific allegation of sexual harassment in the case. The judgment underscores the distinction between intemperate language and actions constituting sexual harassment under the relevant legal framework.


The writ petition challenges the directive of the Internal Committee (IC) instructing the petitioner, an Assistant Professor and Finance Coordinator at the College of Engineering, Thalassery, to issue an apology to the 6th Respondent, who is the complainant in this case. The dispute arose from a personality development training program, during which the Petitioner submitted an expenditure report. The report contained an assertion that the original report was “abducted” by the Complainant. The Complainant files a sexual harassment complaint, allegations include the Petitioner’s report being prejudiced, ill-motivated, and demonstrating mala fide intention. The contention is that the language used in the report constitutes sexual harassment under the relevant legal framework.

Contention of the Petitioner:

The Petitioner argued that the report was a legitimate expression of concerns about the Complainant’s conduct regarding the training program’s financial matters.

Contention of the Respondent:

The 6th Respondent (Complainant) contended that the report constituted sexual harassment under the Act and objected to the maintainability of the writ petition.

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Court’s Observation:

The Kerala HC noted that the Act defines sexual harassment, and its subsections provide specific circumstances constituting harassment. The court emphasized that a mere intemperate language, even in an official report, cannot be considered sexual harassment unless connected with an act or behaviour of sexual harassment.

The Court stated “There is no sexual harassment complained of and a solitary allegation of any or all of the acts enumerated under Section 3(2), cannot constitute an offense under the Act of 2013. Any such act should be connected with and in relation to any act or behaviour of sexual harassment. This Court also does not find any allegation of a promise, threat or an offensive or hostile work environment or a humiliating treatment against the 6th Respondent, from the complaint, which is in connection with an act or behaviour of sexual harassment. There is no allegation that the purported harassment was intended at sexual exploitation of the complainant, which can only be if there is any allegation as such of a sexual offense. What is complained of is the report made as to the 6th Respondent having ‘abducted’ (sic) the original report. The complaint is that the allegation in the report was only to harass the complainant which cannot constitute a sexual harassment merely because it was made against a female employee. If such complaints are allowed to be made under the Act of 2013, then, there could be no independent report made against any women employee in any organisation and no controlling authority would be able to properly supervise the work of a female employee.”

Court’s Decision:

The Court found no specific allegation of sexual harassment against the Complainant and held that the actions mentioned in the report did not amount to offenses under the Act. It concluded that the committee’s recommendations exceeded its powers and set aside the findings, allowing the writ petition.

The court ruled that intemperate language in an official report, without a connection to sexual harassment, does not constitute an offense under the Sexual Harassment Act. The committee’s recommendations were set aside, and the complaint was found not capable of institution under the Act. The writ petition was allowed.

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