Recently, in a judgment dated 9th July, 2019, the Delhi High Court in the case of Anita Suresh v. Union of India & Ors. slapped a hefty fine on a woman for filing a false sexual harassment complaint against her senior.
Facts: Ms. Anita Suresh (“Petitioner”) filed a writ petition challenging the report dated 20th January, 2012 (“Report”) of the Internal Committee (“IC”) of ESI Corporation (“Employer”), praying that the retirement benefits of Mr. O.P. Verma (“Respondent”) be withheld and an independent departmental enquiry be initiated against him. The Report was the result of a written complaint filed by the Petitioner on 08th July, 2011, to the Employer alleging sexual harassment as Respondent misbehaved and made attempts of sexual advances against her. The Petitioner reported the following two incidents:
(i) “Yesterday when I was seated with my colleagues on the 1st floor of the building, Sh. Verma came and commented indicating sexual advances. I cannot for the reasons of modesty bring on papers the filthy language he uses for me.”
(ii) “Yesterday in the presence of my staff and other members he asked me to come alone to check the shortcomings of the male toilet when nobody is there and I will follow you soon.”
An IC was constituted to examine the complaint before which the Respondent denied all the allegations levelled against him. He stated that the Petitioner made the complaint because of her grudge due to certain official work disposed by him in her absence. He further added that he only brought the absence of soap in the male toilet to her notice and his remarks were misinterpreted and taken totally out of context. The IC examined the Petitioner who could not recollect the names of any of the persons present at the time of the aforesaid incidents. She was shown the relevant papers relating to the staff members present on that day but still could not recollect the names. She stated that she confided the incidents to Ms. Rashmi Kapoor (“Witness”) on the same day after the incident.
The IC then examined the Witness, who stated that she was not present at the time of incident but that the Petitioner told her that the attitude of the Respondent towards her was not good and that he made two inappropriate comments against her. However, these two comments were not stated by the Petitioner in her statement before the IC. The IC examined both parties and a total of 8 witnesses, and by its Report observed that the exact content of communication of the incident mentioned in the complaint could not be established. The IC gave benefit of doubt to the Respondent and recommended relocating both the Petitioner and the Respondent from their then posting.
Arguments: Learned counsel for the Petitioner argued that the findings of the IC were erroneous and unjustified since she had proved by sufficient evidence that the Respondent misbehaved and had made attempts of sexual advances. Further, he pressurized her to withdraw her complaint whereupon a warning was issued to him on 04th November, 2011. The transfer of both the parties to different places was not a justified penalty to the Respondent. Learned counsel for the Employer argued that both parties were transferred and that the Respondent was superannuated on 28th February, 2015.
Held: The Court noted that the complaint contained two incidents out of which the first incident was in the presence of the Petitioner’s colleagues whereas the second incident was in the presence of the staff and other members. During the inquiry, she could not give the name of any person present at the time of both incidents. Further, she was shown the record of the staff persons present on duty on the date of the incident but still could not recollect the names of any colleague/ staff member. The Court observed that:
- It was difficult to believe that she would not remember the names of any colleague/ staff member present. The IC had examined all the persons who were on duty that day, but no person supported her allegations.
- She had also not mentioned the alleged comments of the Respondent in the complaint on the ground of modesty. She had refrained from disclosing the same even before the IC, for which no reason or justification was given.
- Some earlier incidents of proved misconduct on the part of the Petitioner which showed that she did not have a clean service record.
The entire complaint thus appeared to be false and filed with some ulterior motive. After a careful consideration of the record of the inquiry proceedings, the Court held that the complaint of the Petitioner appeared to be false. The petition was dismissed with cost of Rs. 50,000/- to be deposited with the Delhi High Court Advocates Welfare Trust within four weeks. The Court further held that the Employer could initiate appropriate action against the Petitioner for filing false sexual harassment complaint against the Respondent in accordance with law.
– Adv. Shivangi Prasad – Corporate Lawyer, External Member & Trainer, Head – Legal & Compliance, Partner POSH at Work