iGate employee says Phaneesh Murthy "pressured" her to abort their child

Law firm Aiman-Smith & Marcy presented the employee's version of the "facts" of the case

May 23, 2013 01:49 pm | Updated November 16, 2021 08:23 pm IST - Bangalore

A file photo of Phaneesh Murthy. Photo: G.R.N. Somashekar

A file photo of Phaneesh Murthy. Photo: G.R.N. Somashekar

A California law firm said on Thursday it is representing an employee of iGate “with respect to her claims for sex harassment against Phaneesh Murthy and iGate.”

Presenting her version of the “facts” of the case, Aiman-Smith & Marcy said Mr. Murthy had “pressured” her to abort her pregnancy caused by him.

“When he discovered this [the pregnancy], Mr. Murthy pressured [her] to have an abortion. When she refused, he told her to leave the company, quietly, to protect his position as CEO,” the law firm said in a statement issued from Oakland.

Mr. Murthy was removed from his position of CEO and President on Monday for his failure to report his relationship with the subordinate employee. However, iGate, a company based in the United States, said it found no merit in the complaint of sexual harassment made by the employee.

“California’s Fair Employment and Housing Act prohibits discrimination on the basis of sex, which includes discrimination on the basis of pregnancy, and prohibits harassment on the basis of sex, which includes conditioning any form of employment benefit on a sexual relationship,” the law firm said. It had “previously represented [two other women] in sex harassment lawsuits against Mr. Murthy for his actions while employed at Infosys,” the law firm, which is based in the same state as iGate, said.

The firm said its client-interface, Head of Investor Relations at iGate, was on medical leave. The firm had a different take on Mr. Murthy’s contention, as articulated by him on Tuesday, that she did not report to him but to the Chief Financial Officer. Although her “nominal supervisor” was iGate CFO Sujit Sircar, the fact that he was based in India meant that Mr. Murthy was her “day to day supervisor” at iGate’s headquarters in Fremont.

“In his role as [her] supervisor, Mr. Murthy, as he had with his previous victims, insinuated himself into [her] personal life using the pretext of business necessity,” the firm alleged. Mr. Murthy was able to “induce [the woman] into behaviour and action that she would have found unthinkable at the beginning of her employment.” Further, Mr. Murthy was able to pursue “the abusive and harassing actions because he was [her] employer.”

“The CEO of any company, as Mr. Murthy was here, has tremendous economic and personal power over his subordinates,” it added.

“[She] was dependent on her continued employment for her basic living expenses and, further, Mr. Murthy conditioned her further employment and career advancement opportunities on her entering into a relationship with him which, eventually and reluctantly, she did,” it added. When she attempted to “extricate herself from the relationship, he reduced her responsibilities, threatened her continued employment, and pressured her to continue the relationship.”

Citing provisions of California law, the firm said: “Under California law, because Mr. Murthy was an officer and director of iGate, his actions were the actions of iGate, and iGate, too, is liable for the acts of Mr. Murthy. There remains the question of whether, given Mr. Murthy’s history of predatory actions toward female employees, iGate did all that it should have done to oversee and control Mr. Murthy and to provide some method for women at iGate to report his actions.”

The law firm termed as a “a lie” Mr. Murthy’s claim that his relationship with her lasted “a few months,” and contended that “Mr. Murthy began pursuing [her] shortly after her employment began in 2010.”

The firm said it was “in communication” with iGate’s legal representatives. It said iGate’s statement that its own investigation into the charges made by Mr. Murthy’s subordinate remains ongoing, it would refrain from commenting on the company’s “separate role in this matter.” However, referring to iGate’s statement absolving Mr. Murthy of the charge of sexual harassment, the law firm said legally “the employer is liable for the conduct of its CEO,” and that “we hope... iGate will take appropriate responsibility in this matter.”

On Mr. Murthy’s claim that he had informed the board of his relationship, the firm said he did so only after the complainant told him that she would seek “legal representation.”

It termed as “defamatory and a despicable” Mr. Murthy’s charge that the harassment charges were an attempt at extortion. The charge amounts to an attempt to blame “the victim, who only wants to somehow continue her career and support her child.”

Randall B. Aiman-Smith heads the firm, which specialises in employment and consumer matters and in class action lawsuits.

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