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SC comes down on sexual harassment at workplace

Court order comes on a complaint by a bank officer

Sexual harassment of women at workplace is an affront to their fundamental right to equality and a life with dignity, the Supreme Court has held in a judgment.

“Sexual harassment at the workplace is an affront to the fundamental rights of a woman to equality under Articles 14 and 15 and her right to live with dignity under Article 21 of the Constitution as well as her right to practice any profession or to carry on any occupation, trade or business,” a Bench led by Justice D.Y. Chandrachud observed in a February 25 verdict.

The verdict, authored by Justice Chandrachud, was based on a complaint made by a senior officer of the Punjab and Sind Bank, that she was transferred out from Indore to Jabalpur because she had complained about irregularities and corruption.

The woman, a chief manager and Scale IV officer, said she was also sexually harassed by her senior officer.

‘Mala fide transfer’

Though the court held that employees cannot have a “choice of postings” unless if the transfer was proved to be mala fide or without authority, it found that her transfer was an act of reprisal against her complaints about the irregularities in the branch.

“She was transferred out and sent to a branch which was expected to be occupied by a Scale I officer. This is symptomatic of a carrot and stick policy adopted to suborn the dignity of a woman who is aggrieved by unfair treatment at her workplace. The law cannot countenance this. The order of transfer was an act of unfair treatment and is vitiated by malafide,” the court concluded. Confirming the State High Court’s decision in March last year to quash her transfer, the court ordered her to be reposted in Indore and held her entitled to receive litigation costs of Rs. 50,000 from the bank.

The court referred to the Sexual Harassment of of Women at Workplace Act of 2013, saying its very purpose was to provide protection to working women.

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