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Instructing a woman employee to do something officially or even scolding for not completing work can’t be sexual harassment: Madras High Court

The Bench said, "Every office has to maintain certain decorum and women employees cannot be allowed to go scot-free without completing their assignments."

A 2-Judge Bench of the Madras High Court comprising of Justices M Sathyanarayanan and R Hemalatha had observed that a solitary allegation of “intemperate language” against a female employee does not constitute sexual harassment under the Sexual Harassment of Women at Workplace (Prevention, Prohibition and Redressal) Act, 2013.

The Court warned against the misuse of the said Act through “exaggerated” or “non-existent claims.” The Bench noted that discrimination against a female employee on grounds of inefficiency cannot find recourse under the Sexual Harassment Act.

The court said, “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.”

The petition was filed by V Natarajan, Deputy Registrar of Trade Marks and GI, Intellectual Property of India. He was initially accused of “high-handedness” by a fellow female officer. However, a later complaint by the same woman in 2016 talked of “lewd remarks” and “sexual advancements”.

The Madras High Court observed discrepancies between the first and the second complaint and also stated that the complaint that alleged sexual harassment was devoid of details, dates, and sequences of events. The Court also found that the original complaint was generic in nature, detailing the alleged high-handedness of the Deputy Registrar in office. It did not contain any sexual harassment allegations.

As such, the Bench opined, “The complaint repeatedly mentioned the word ‘sexual harassment’ without 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 complainant, it appears, made a futile attempt to settle her personal score with the petitioner. ”

Granting relief to Natrajan, the Court stated that a Chief or an Administrator has every right to extract work and use his/her discretion and prerogatives. The Bench said, “Every office has to maintain certain decorum and women employees cannot be allowed to go scot-free without completing their assignments.”

The Court clarified that a full-fledged enquiry in a case that comes under the ambit of the Sexual Harassment Act. It subsequently quashed the prima facia conclusions arrived at by the district Local Complaints Committee (LCC) which was upheld by a Central Administrative Tribunal against the petitioner.

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