The compensation covers remuneration for 81 months, damages for mental agony, unkind words of sexual harassment and for filing a false complaint against the victim.
The woman has asked for a total compensation of Rs 64 lakh of which 24 lakh is her pending salary from April 2014.
In what comes as a significant victory for a woman who was employed at the Loyola College in Chennai, the state Women’s Commission has found merit in her allegations against the institute and has ordered that she be compensated for the trauma endured. The survivor, Catherine* had complained to the commission in November this year that she had faced harassment from the institute after she complained about abuse and harassment from Father Xavier Alphonse SJ, the Director of the Alumni association. The survivor has accused the institute of stonewalling her for almost a decade and had approached the Madras High court.
The Tamil Nadu State Commission for Women, headed by Chairperson Kannegi Packianathan, conducted an inquiry at the institute, based on the allegations submitted by the survivor in November. On December 15, the members of the Commission visited the institute in person, after the current Rector of the Loyola College Society, Francis P Xavier expressed his inability to respond to summons given his old age and the risk to exposure of COVID-19.
What are the allegations against Loyola college?
As a retribution for her actions, the Director then allegedly began harassing her. In her petition to both the Commission and the court, Catherine says that beyond making her shift departments, there was no action taken against the Director. No inquiry was conducted into the matter nor was an internal complaints committee formed to investigate the harassment further.
The survivor had been serving as an Administrator at the Loyola College in Chennai since July 2010 and her duties were related to Loyola Development Office as well as the Alumni Association. She had been required to report to the Director, Loyola Development Office as well as Director, Alumni Association.
While she had reported to Rev Fr Casimir Raj SJ, Director of the Alumni Association at the time of joining in the college, Rev Fr Xavier Alphonse SJ, took over as the Director of the Alumni Association in the year 2012.
Six months into Xavier Alphonse’s tenure, she had noticed certain wrongdoings and had questioned the dubious methods used by him, to siphon about Rs 1 crore lying in the corpus of the Loyola Alumni Association into his personal trust. It is alleged that he also misused the Scholarship scheme provided for by the management by awarding scholarships to ineligible candidates.
On e-mailing her allegations to the Loyola management in August 2013, they had curtailed the financial powers of Alphonse. The management also directed that all payments towards the Alumni Association shall be done only under the endorsement of the campus treasurer of the College. The Principal had even replied, acknowledging the complaint mail on the same day.
Following this, the survivor states in her affidavit that Rev Fr Xavier Alphonse started harassing and abusing her at every possible instance and sometimes behaved in a manner unbecoming of a reverend priest.
“In fact, Alphonse attempted to even create a rift in my family. I brought these matters to the notice of the management of the Loyola College who would then try to pacify me, but failed to take any meaningful action and were indirectly shielding the nefarious activities of Xavier Alphonse,” the petition reads.
In the months thereafter, Mary alleges rampant corruption by Alphonse while handling the payments received while conducting a fundraising event organized by the College Alumni association. The event Star Nite (Kalloori Padhai), which saw many celebrities in attendance, was meant to raise funds for a new Commerce Block in the campus.
However, it is stated that Alphonse compelled many sponsors and donors to draw the payment cheques in favour of his personal Trust and tried to illegally divert the funds.
“He also subverted the generated funds from the said program by distributing a large number of free complimentary tickets for this program to his family and friends’ circle and thereby damaged the avowed object of the said program to realize its full potential,” it is alleged.
However, she claims that the College and its then Rector turned a blind eye towards her complaints regarding the corruption in the financial dealing related to Star Nite.
An e-mail sent to the College management in September 2013 did provide some respite – she was transferred internally and posted as the Rector’s Secretary. Even following the internal posting, she was continuously harassed by the said Rev Fr Xavier Alphonse SJ, over telephone and in-person at her office in the campus.
“Whenever I brought these to the knowledge of the management including the Third Respondent herein I was dissuaded by them from pursuing any action against the Rev Fr Xavier Alphonse,” the writ stated.
She says that management had warned her about the reputation of the Loyola College being sullied when the matter is out in the public domain and they asked her to wait until the management transfers Alphonse to another institution.
There were even attempts by Alphonse to divert the case by harassing the victim’s son who is an alumnus of the Loyola college and an executive member of its Alumni association. The survivor had also written to the Police regarding the same.
After the survivor informed the Management of her mail to the Police, the Rector had in September 2014 asked her to stop reporting to the College for work until Alphonse was transferred, following which she could resume duty. She was also assured that her salary for her period of absence would be paid once she resumed duty.
She had also highlighted the wrongdoings via e-mail (In Sept 2014) to Fr Provincial of the Madurai Jesuit Province, The Provincial, Society of Jesus as they are the highest authority that runs the Loyola College. Despite this, The Provincial, Society of Jesus had not initiated any action or enquiry as required under the Sexual Harassment of Women at Workplace (Prevention, Prohibition and Redressal) Act, 2013.
While the survivor had gone on leave on the Rector’s assurance, Alphonse had been moved to St Joseph’s College, Trichy in June 2015. But when she returned to the college seeking to resume work, she was told by the Rector to wait until he contacted her. As that response hadn’t arrived, T went to the College on December 18, 2015, and met the Principal to understand the status. But the Principal had not responded properly and indicated that should not be able to resume duty.
Given that she had neither resigned nor been officially terminated, in December 2015, she mailed the college management stating that as a regular employee, her services cannot be terminated abruptly without any enquiry or show cause notice. Particularly when the college has not issued any written order of termination.
Further, the management and other concerned parties had not conducted any enquiry on the sexual harassment allegations against Xavier Alphonse, in violation of the provisions of the Sexual harassment of Women at Workplace (Prevention, Prohibition and Redressal) Act, 2013 and the Vishaka Guidelines.
Hence, she approached the Court by filing a Writ Petition for taking action against the College management, concerned higher authorities, challenging the termination of employment.
Finally in September 2014, the Rector allegedly told Catherine to stop coming to work and said that she would report back after the accused was ‘moved’ from the college. She was allegedly assured that her salary for the period of absence will be paid as soon as she resumes duty. Father Xavier Alphonese was moved to another Jesuit college in Trichy but the institute allegedly stopped responding to Catherine’s communications after this and she was not called to rejoin duties.
“I am a regular employee of the second respondent (Loyola College) and hence my services cannot be terminated abruptly without any enquiry or show cause notice more particularly when the second respondent has not issued any written order of termination,” she alleged in her petition to the Madras High Court.
How did Loyola respond?
The response to Catherine’s allegations in the Madras High Court came only in 2020. Both the alleged harasser and the institute submitted separate counter affidavits.
The institute claimed that Catherine was appointed on a contractual basis and that she was relieved from her service. It further stated that she was terminated from the job on September 20, this year. They also denied allegations of ‘slumber, indifference, harassment and embezzlement of funds’.
Their response further maintained that Catherine had not preferred any complaint to the Internal Complaints Committee or any other authority alleging sexual harassment.
The alleged harasser too submitted that Catherine’s transfer to another department was because her services were not required at the Alumni Association. He further termed allegations of sexual harassment as ‘false and mischievous’.
Several of the claims made by the institute and the accused were however found to be incorrect, by the Women’s commission.
What the Women’s Commission found
“As per the rules, the college has to inform the Directorate of Collegiate Education whenever a staff of the college has been terminated but no such official letter has been sent,” says the Commission’s report, filed on December 22. “The Commission found that her track record was very good and there was no reason for terminating her service. It was very clear that Loyola college has abruptly stopped her from work deliberately,” notes the report.
The commission viewed the matter as a distressing case for a senior citizen and stated that she produced proof of her salary as well.
“For the kind of trauma and physical and sexual abuse she has been submitted to, she has to be adequately compensated, expeditiously,” stated the report. “Catherine has been subjected to intense suffering which must be alleviated immediately. The commission hereby orders to pay back wages and compensation with interest for harassment mentally and sexually,” it orders.
Catherine has requested for a total compensation of Rs 64 lakh of which 24 lakh is her pending salary from April 2014, Rs.25 lakh towards compensation for mental agony, unkind words and seuxal harassment and Rs.15 lakhs for the alleged false complaint filed by the institute against her son.
But the fight is not over
Catherine is still fighting her case against the institute in the Madras High Court. The last hearing was on December 18 and the next is scheduled for January 18.
The survivor’s son alleges that a systemic indifference to the plight of women employees has led to this situation.
“The management of Loyola College, Chennai believe that they are above the concept of Social Justice and that because of the power that they possess, they can defraud every employee of theirs by denying them their basic entitlements. There is neither a letter of termination or dismissal and false statements are made on oath by Priests that her services were terminated which is nothing short of perjury and when the Commission for Women asked for the Termination Order, their lies were exposed,” he tells TNM. “When exposing a crime is treated as committing a crime, you are being ruled by criminals.”
Loyola college declined to comment and stated that the matter is sub-judice.
*Name changed to protect identity