Metis POSH-Case Law- Calcutta High Court- Reconsider WBNUJS professor’s allegation against Vice-Chancellor

The Calcutta High Court has directed the local committee, 24-Parganas (North), constituted under the Sexual Harassment of Women at Workplace (Prevention, Prohibition and Redressal) Act, 2013 (in short, the Act of 2013) (“POSH Committee”) to reconsider a complaint by a professor of NUJS Kolkata, accusing the University’s Vice-Chancellor (‘VC’) of sexual harassment.

The POSH Committee in the impugned order, had dismissed the petitioner’s complaint on the grounds that it was barred by limitation

In disagreeing with the order of the committee, a single bench of Justice Kausik Chanda directed the committee to reconsider the petitioner’s complaint on merits and pass a reasoned order. The Court stated:

The question of limitation is a mixed question of law and fact and, therefore, the issue of limitation could not have been decided by the local committee at the threshold stage without evidence. The local committee, in deciding the issue of limitation, should accept the allegations made in the complaint at its face value. There is no occasion to examine the veracity of the allegations made in the complaint at the threshold stage.

The petitioner, an associate professor at the university submitted that she had filed the complaint in 2023, and submitted an application for condonation of delay in 2024, which was rejected by the committee, since the incidents complained of had occurred between 2019-2023.

Counsel for the petitioner submitted that the committee had failed to read the complaint in its proper perspective and misdirected itself in concluding that the complaint filed by the petitioner was barred by limitation, relying solely on the definition of “sexual harassment” as provided under Section 2(n) of the Act of 2013. It was stated that the local committee had failed to take into consideration the definition of “sexual harassment” under Section 3(2) of the Act of 2013.

Counsel for the petitioner submitted that if the complaint filed by the petitioner was read as a whole, it would be apparent that the petitioner had alleged several incidents of implied or explicit threats of detrimental treatment in her employment.

It was argued that the Respondent-VC had also interfered with her work and created an intimidating and hostile work environment for her. The petitioner has also been subjected to humiliating treatment affecting her health and safety. It was argued that the committee did not take into consideration the definition of “sexual harassment” under Section 3(2) of the Act of 2013 and erroneously held that the complaint of the petitioner was barred by limitation.

Counsel for the university supported the findings of the local committee and stated that nothing has been alleged in the complaint that occurred after April 2023, in relation to or connected with any act or behaviour of sexual harassment.

Therefore, it was stated that the alleged incidents of victimization having no nexus with sexual harassment cannot extend the period of limitation. Counsel further submitted that the committee had considered the complaint of the petitioner as well as the reply filed by the respondent-VC and came to a factual finding that no act of sexual harassment took place beyond April, 2023.

The documents produced before the committee with the reply of respondent-VC make it clear that none of the incidents alleged to have taken place after April, 2023, have any nexus with the act or behaviour of sexual harassment. Therefore, the findings of the committee should not be interfered with by this Court, it was stated.

Counsel on behalf of the respondent-VC, submitted that the petitioner herself filed an application for condonation of delay and the committee was not satisfied with the explanation provided by the petitioner in her application, and as such, the petitioner at this juncture cannot contend that her complaint was not barred by limitation.

It was stated that since the petitioner could not sufficiently explain the delay in filing the complaint, the local committee has rightly rejected the complaint.

In perusing the submissions and order passed by the local committee, the court found that the order made by the POSH committee dismissing the petitioner’s complaint on the grounds of limitation could not be sustained.

In looking into the concept of limitation under the POSH act, the court referred to the petitioner’s complaint and stated that it was evident that the local committee did not consider the incidents that allegedly took place after April, 2023 as “sexual harassment.”

In my view, the incidents alleged to have taken place between April, 2023 and December 21, 2023, suggest that the petitioner has been subjected to threat of detrimental treatment in her employment and respondent no.7 has created an intimidating, offensive and hostile work environment for her. In the present case, the allegations made in the complaint clearly suggest that the circumstances of victimisation and detrimental treatment allegedly taken place between April, 2023 till December, 2023 have a nexus with the alleged sexual harassment of the petitioner between September, 2019 to April, 2023. Therefore, if the complaint is read as a whole, would lead to a conclusion that the same was within the period of limitation in terms of Section 9 (1) of the Act of 2013, the Court held.

Accordingly, the plea was allowed and the local committee was directed to reconsider the petitioner’s complaint and deliver a verdict on merits.

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