Personal misunderstandings at work can’t be called sexual harassment: HC

The Madras High Court held that personal misunderstandings that make it difficult for women to get along with a male colleague cannot always be termed as sexual harassment

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The Madras High Court recently ruled that it is not right to label feuds resulting from misunderstandings with a male co-worker as sexual harassment.

The Tamil Nadu Women’s Commission had recently directed Loyola College to pay over Rs 60 lakh to a woman employee who was terminated in 2014. At the time it was established that the petitioner had been made to suffer at the College, for which she was to be compensated. The woman, Mary Rajasekaran, had filed a petition two years later, seeking permission from the College for her to rejoin. When all the records were re-examined, it was found that the first complaint filed by the petitioner, did not really indicate any allegations of sexual harassment leading to her termination.

As per law, only unwelcome sexual behaviour in the form of physical contact and advances, or demand for sexual favours, making sexually coloured remarks, showing pornography or any other unwelcome physical, verbal or non-verbal conduct of sexual nature tantamounts to sexual harassment.

It was found that Rajasekaran’s position was merely changed to some other post on consolidate pay, after there was some personal feud between her and her superior, who was a principal and a priest. Nothing in her initial complaint indicated she had been sexually harassed. It was only later, when some criminal investigation began against her son that she raised an allegation of sexual harassment, which seemed like an after-thought.

Therefore, the HC ruled that the order directing the college to heavy damages is definitely “liable to be interfered and not maintainable” and against the very statue under which the Commission was constituted.

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