Misunderstandings do not constitute Sexual Harassment

Madras High Court observed that Misunderstandings, Personal Feuds, etc. at Workplace do not constitute Sexual Harassment

On 25th August 2021, in the case of Mary Rajasekaran vs. University of Madras and Ors., while hearing clubbed petitions, Madras High Court held that personal feud, misunderstandings and not getting along with a colleague would not constitute sexual harassment.

Facts of the case are that Mary Rajasekaran (“Petitioner”) had been appointed as an Administrator on contract in Loyola Development Office and Alumni Association in July 2010. She had served in that position until 2015 and was paid a consolidated amount of Rs 30,000 a month. Subsequently, she had been appointed as Secretary to the Rector of Loyola institutions on contract basis. However, her services were terminated on September 3, 2014 and she was offered a sum of Rs 50,000 in lieu of allowing her to serve the notice period but she had rejected the offer.

In 2016, Petitioner moved the High Court filing a writ petition and accusing a former principal, the Director of Alumni Association (between May 2012 and May 2015) of sexual harassment. While the plea was pending, she approached the Tamil Nadu State Commission for Women and on December 22 she had obtained an order for payment of Rs 64.3 lakh as compensation. Loyola College filed a writ in 2021 against the order of Commission. Since in both the writs parties were same the High Court clubbed them and dealt with both together.

1. On writ of 2016 filed by Petitioner:

a). On Petitioner being a regular employee: Petitioner contended that being a regular employee, without following due procedure she was terminated from Service, such termination order is not valid in the eye of law. But for such termination, she would have continued to work as a regular employee in the college. Respondents contended that Petitioner was not appointed as regular employee. She was given a job on contract basis. The nature of her work as only to work in the Society of Alumni Association and Loyola Development Office and the consolidated pay was paid from the society. It was also argued that she was served with a termination letter and with two months’ salary for notice period, which she refused to receive by signing.

Court observed that at the time of alleged termination Petitioner was60 years old. While filing the Writ, she was aged about 62years. Therefore, her contention that she was a regular employee even after 60 years is quite improbable. Therefore, appointing her as a Regular Employee is also highly improbable.

b). On Sexual Harassment: Petitioner contended that the Loyola College had not taken any action against the 5th Respondent (Accused of sexual harassment) and violated the provisions of the Sexual Harassment of Women at Workplace (Prevention, Prohibition and Redressal) Act, 2013. She argued that the accused was transferred to Trichy that itself indicates that the allegations raised by her regarding sexual harassment are true.

Respondents contended that the alleged sexual harassment is nothing but a story invented by Petitioner only after the police started investigating the crime against her son. There is no evidence whatsoever available on record to show that she ever raised any sexual allegation or complaint against the 5th Respondent. Only when she addressed an email to the Police Commissioner regarding the criminal investigation against her son, did she include one word “sexually”. It was argued that this allegation was made only to blackmail the management.

Court Observed that:

  • Both emails sent to authorities did not contain any allegation of sexual harassment or physical abuse as pleaded in the Writ Petition.
  • The first time when her son was investigated by the police, a complaint was sent to the Commissioner of Police, Coimbatore, stating that the Accused was harassing her “mentally, emotionally and sexually.” Except these three words, nothing else was mentioned. Even in it, she did not give any specific instances and nature of allegations etc.

Court held that merely on the basis of personal feud between accused and Petitioner or for swindling money or taking credit or because they did not get along well together or because she was not happy that she was kept away from participation or she was not given importance, one cannot say it is sexual harassment. Such misunderstandings or happening in the workplace cannot be classified as sexual harassment.

Court further said that a conjoint reading of the definition as well as Section 3 of the POSH Law indicates that only when the circumstances narrated in the definition as well as Section 3 are made out, such act can be brought under the definition of sexual harassment. In the given case, the main allegation of the sexual harassment itself appears to be after thought and raised at a later point of time. Hence, the Court did not find any merits in the writ petition.

2. On writ of 2021 filed by Petitioner: Court held that the primary function of the Commission is to find out the prima facie case after thorough investigation. Investigation cannot be merely on the basis of submissions of the complaint and must be done after proper discovery of facts on evidence and records etc. The order of Commission was set aside.

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