On 16 September, the Madhya Pradesh High Court pronounced a judgment against the Medanta Hospital Indore, for not properly addressing a sexual harassment case against their medical superintendent, and for wrongly firing of the complainant herself after she approached a Local Complaints Committee.
The court also found that the hospital group had violated the law on sexual harassment at the workplace by not setting up a proper Internal Complaints Committee (ICC), where the survivor could complain against the accused.
Details of the Case
On 18 March 2016, a senior marketing manager at Medanta Hospital in Indore filed a sexual harassment complaint against the medical superintendent of the hospital. She emailed the complaint to the Ministry of Women and Child Development which the ministry then transferred to the Principal Secretary, Department of Women and Child Development Government of Madhya Pradesh.
The WCD ministry set up a Local Complaints Committee, LCC, which found out that the hospital lacked an ICC. The hospital’s HR, however, reiterated that an ICC existed and that they never received any such complaint.
Before reaching out to the ministry, the survivor had written to the directors including Dr Naresh Trehan detailing the kind of harassment she was subjected to on a daily basis. But the emails fell on deaf ears.
The judgment details the ordeal the woman went through after considering the submissions of both sides (page 15 onwards).
The accused would have conversations with her of a sexual colour. He told her that if she wanted to continue in Medanta she should be good to him or else he will make her work difficult. He also used to comment upon her dress and outfits. Further, he would make her sit in his cabin for hours, creating obstruction and causing harassment in even technical and operational support. He would talk to her in a high pitched voice with contempt and would offend her dignity and chastity.
As a result, her activities were squeezed and stagnated. She was not allowed to participate in marketing activities. He was surpassing her and directly assigning tasks to executives in her team. She was marginalized and embarrassed. She was subjected to a typical hostile work environment intimidating with her future employment.
What Happened After She Complained?
After the survivor complained in 2016, she was shown the door. She was told that her performance was not up to the mark, and her services were terminated.
The survivor joined Medanta on 15 July 2015. Her appraisal form depicted how she was a thorough professional. She was, according to the judges’ assessment of the evidence, good at her job and was meeting all her deadlines.
Despite this, her probation was extended for three months. The extended period ended in March 2016, after which she was asked to leave on 19 April, 2016.
The High Court noted that they were more sinister reasons behind terminating her employment.
"“The termination order is a camouflaged order with oblique motives to terminate her employment as a measure of punishment to achieve the collateral purpose of getting rid of her by hook or crook, removing her from the Hospital.”" - Madhya Pradesh High Court judgment on 16 September 2019
The LCC ruled in favour of the complainant on 18 August 2018, and ordered Medanta to cancel the complainant’s termination. The hospital group then took the matter to the Madhya Pradesh High Court.
What the MP High Court Ruled
In a remarkably well-reasoned and comprehensive judgment, the Madhya Pradesh Hich Court found the hospital had failed to fulfil its obligations under the law on several counts and passed the following directions in favour of the complainant:
The complainant is held entitled for compensation of Rs.25,00,000 for the pain & suffering, loss of reputation, emotional distress and loss of salary of eighteen months for no fault on her part resulting into deprivation of right to live with dignity.
She is entitled for EPF and other monetary dues (if still not paid). She must be issued character and experience certificate of 2017, during the period she was in employment without attaching any stigma by the competent authority of Hospital.
The Hospital is directed to deposit the amount in the savings bank account of the complainant within eight weeks positively; failing which the same shall attract interest at the rate of 9% per annum from today.
The Hospital is directed to pay a penalty of Rs.50,000 due to non-existence of internal complaints committee at the relevant point of time.
The judges scrutinised the order of the LCC and its findings on how the woman had been harassed at the workplace – and then sytematically examined how the hospital group had tried to counter these. It was able to then reject claims by Medanta such as that it actually did have an ICC in place, or that the complaints were an afterthought, after fully appreciating all the evidence on record.
One can only hope that subsequent cases are dealt with in as methodical and comprehensive an approach.
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