Telecom firm fined for flouting Vishaka guidelines
The Bombay High Court has dismissed a sexual harassment complaint against Vodafone Essar Ltd and its former higher ups, but, at the same time, it has imposed a Rs 50,000 fine on the company – to be paid to the War Widows’ Association – for not having an internal complaints committee in place at the relevant time.

While passing the judgement last week, a division bench of Justices AA Sayed and MS Karnik, observed, “We do note here that the Respondent No 1 (Vodafone) had not followed the guidelines laid down by the Supreme Court in Vishaka as there was no Complaints Committee constituted at the relevant time.”

The case was filed by an employee who started working as Sales Operations Manager in 1994 with Max India Ltd, which later entered a joint venture and came to be called as Hutchison Max Telecom Pvt Ltd and is now known as Vodafone Essar Ltd. She was later designated as Manager, Customer Care, but terminated from service in August 2000.

She alleged that she was terminated because she did not yield to her Chief Operating Officer’s demands seeking sexual favours. She alleged that her immediate senior and another employee helped the COO put pressure on her. “Respondent No 2 (COO) started to use subtle pressures through these persons who were subordinate to him for canvassing to her the virtues of giving a little sex to achieve substantial progress in the organisation. She was getting more and more terrified at the thought that sooner than later she would be thrown out of her job,” the judgement notes. She had filed a case before the Labour court for being terminated for not yielding to her senior’s demands for sexual favour.

However, the company defended its decision of terminating her services, citing lack of performance and also termed her case as ‘revenge’ for the same. It also argued that the victim’s statement to the court that she had complained to the Human Resources department was false as there were no such complaints in the company’s records. It also mentioned that the victim failed to pursue her case before the Labour Court.

In the HC, the victim sought compensation for “the grievous injury and irreparable damage done to her physically and her psyche by reason of actions complained against them,” which too was rejected by HC.

In a significant observation in the judgement, the court also said that unless an employee’s case for sexual harassment is established, she can’t claim violation of fundamental rights around the alleged incident. Citing the Supreme Court’s judgement of 1997 – commonly known as Vishaka guidelines judgement – the HC bench observed, “Thus, it is only when there are instances of sexual harassment that it can be said that there is a violation of fundamental rights under Articles 14, 19 and 21 of the Constitution. In other words, unless it is established that there was sexual harassment, there can be no violation of fundamental rights under Articles 14, 19 and 21.”