Sexual Harassment At Workplace Must Be Viewed Seriously: Supreme Court

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Observing that sexual harassment in any form at workplaces must be viewed seriously, the Supreme Court quashed a Gauhati High Court verdict setting aside an order of penalty of withholding 50 per cent pension of a former employee of the Service Selection Board in a sexual harassment case levelled by a woman, who was his junior.
“Sexual harassment is a pervasive and deeply rooted issue that has plagued the societies worldwide. In India, it has been a matter of serious concern, and the development of laws to combat sexual harassment is a testament to the nation’s commitment to addressing this problem. Sexual harassment has existed in India for centuries, but it was only in the latter half of the 20th century that it began to gain legal recognition,” said a bench comprising Chief Justice DY Chandrachud and justices JB Pardiwala and Manoj Misra.

The top court made these observations while allowing the appeal of the central government against the 2019 judgment of the high court restoring full pension to the retired officer of SSB, who was employed as the area organizer at Rangiya in Assam between September 2006 and May 2012.

The penalty order to withhold 50 per cent pension for all times to come was imposed on Dilip Paul in connection with the disciplinary proceedings initiated on the allegations of sexual harassment.

“We have reached the conclusion that the appeal (of the Centre) deserves to be allowed. The High Court committed an egregious error in passing the impugned judgment and order… The impugned judgment and order passed by the High Court dated May 15, 2019, is hereby set aside,” Justice Pardiwala, writing a 104-page judgment for the bench, said.

While restoring the penalty imposed on Dilip Paul by the disciplinary authority, the bench, however, clarified that the Centre “shall not affect any recovery of the amount already paid so far to the respondent”.

“We are dealing with litigation relating to sexual harassment. Sexual harassment in any form at the workplace must be viewed seriously and the harasser should not be allowed to escape the clutches of law. We say so because the same humiliates and frustrates a victim of sexual harassment, more particularly when the harasser goes unpunished or is let off with a relatively minor penalty,” it said.

The bench also dealt with the Visakha judgment and the consequential directions given by the top court to effectively deal with cases of sexual harassment. Paul had allegedly harassed the woman employee working as a field assistant under him.

Initially, she had lodged a complaint addressed to the Inspector General, Frontier Headquarters, Guwahati alleging sexual harassment by Paul.

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