In Anita SuIn Anita Suresh vs. Union of India & Ors. decided by Delhi High Court on July 9, 2019, where the Court not only dismissed the writ petition but also imposed a cost of Rs. 50,000 on the Petitioner for filing a false complaint. The Court also directed the Employer of the Petitioner to initiate appropriate action against the Petitioner for filing false complaint against the Respondent. As an external member on many Internal Committees (IC/Committee), there are a few learnings for me from this order.
Complaint is most important and crucial document in the entire case. How the complaint is written and if the content of the complaint is specific or just a general allegation. For IC, written complaint is the trigger point of the case and specific incidents mentioned in the complaint are the decisive factors for IC to take up the case. Details mentioned in the complaint are important to assess if the case falls in the definition of sexual harassment as defined under section 2(n) of the Sexual Harassment of Women at Workplace (Prevention, Prohibition & Redressal) Act, 2013 and to further frame charges/allegations against the respondent. In absence of specific incidents, the Committee shall not be able to examine the case.
In the given case, the Petitioner could not provide specific details of the first incident either in writing or to IC during examination in person. She had no justification/reason for not disclosing the same before the IC. This led the Court to believe that the complaint filed by the Petitioner was false and it was filed with ulterior motive.
Another interesting point that was raised by this order is to look for the workplace conduct of the parties involved. In this case, the Court directed the Employer to submit original relevant records of the Petitioner for examination. The Petitioner was issued charge sheet on two occasions. First charge sheet was issued within her first year of service for major penalty proceedings for suppressing material information but a lenient view was taken as she had just joined the services and a penalty of “Censure” was imposed upon her. In 2006 another charge sheet was issued for gross misconduct and for exhibiting lack of devotion towards duty. A penalty of reduction of pay by one stage for one year was imposed. In 2011 again a written memorandum was issued against the Petitioner for insubordination and gross misconduct. This showed that the Petitioner did not have a clean service record.
While taking workshops, imparting trainings and investigating cases, I have come across observations like workplace conduct is separate and should not be considered while investigating the matters related to sexual harassment. I have never agreed with it fully and have always maintained that each case is different and overall conduct of the parties should be considered but it has to be done carefully and objectively.
The responsibility placed by law on IC is enormous especially the responsibility of an External Member as he/she is expected to be fair and bring balance to the Committee. The members have to understand that they are not only deciding someone’s professional fate but their decision may impact a party’s personal life as well.