Departmental enquiry must to take action on sexual harassment: HC


The High Court of Karnataka has said that holding of a departmental enquiry as per the law is mandatory for imposing penalties, including dismissal from service, even after an employee of a university is found to be guilty in an enquiry conducted by the internal committee on sexual harassment.

“On a coalesce of the provisions of the Sexual Harassment of Women at Workplace (Prevention, Prohibition and Redressal) Act, 2013, and the Rules what would unmistakably emerge is, where the Service Rules exist, the report of the Internal Complaints Committee becomes a fact finding report or a preliminary report, with regard to the allegation of sexual harassment and the employer becomes duty bound to proceed under the Service Rules before imposing any major penalty,” the court observed.

Justice M. Nagaprasanna passed the order while allowing a petition filed by Arabi U., a 60-year-old professor in the Department of Economics, Mangalore University.

The petitioner had questioned a show cause notice issued to him on November 5, 2020, on behalf of the varsity’s syndicate asking him why he should not be imposed with the penalty of dismissal from the service based on the findings of the Internal Complaints Committee on Sexual Harassment. A project student had lodged a complaint with the State and National Commission for Women against him when he was functioning as chairman of Department of Economics in April 2018.

Referring to Section 19(i) of the 2013 Act that the employer has a duty to treat sexual harassment as a misconduct under the service rules and initiate action for such misconduct, the court also pointed out that the statute governing Classification, Control and Appeal Rules of Employees of Mangalore University also makes it clear that no order imposing any of the major penalties shall be made except after an inquiry held as per the procedure prescribed in the statue. Citing a judgment of the apex court in a similar case related to Central University, Kerala, the court said that the Supreme Court has clearly held that the order of termination being passed on the basis of Internal Complaints Committee was illegal and sets aside the order of termination by holding that regular enquiry or a departmental action as per the service rules is indispensable.

While setting aside the showcause notice issued to the petitioner, the court gave liberty to the varsity to initiate proceedings against him under the service rules by following the procedures stipulated and conclude such proceedings within two months.

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