A Chennai-based employee of Indian tech giant Tata Consultancy Services (TCS) has approached the Labour Court in Kancheepuram following an incident of alleged sexual harassment she experienced while working on a project in the UK. Revathi (name changed) has alleged that she was sexually harassed at an unscheduled, one-on-one appraisal meeting she was forced to attend last year by her Quality Manager. Despite a detailed complaint and evidence provided to substantiate her claims, she alleges that the Internal Committee investigation was carried out by TCS in an unethical manner.
Revathi’s petition, admitted by the Labour Court for hearing, seeks to set aside the enquiry report of the IC and hold that she was, in fact, subjected to sexual harassment. In addition to the alleged sexual harassment at the workplace, the petition alleges shocking lethargy and unprofessionalism with which TCS’s IC appears to have handled the complaint.
When the IC was 'unable to prove sexual harassment', Revathi filed an appeal on the inquiry report. Instead of receiving a reply from the appellate authority – what TCS calls ‘Corporate Harmony Committee’ – she received a reply reiterating the IC’s position, from the IC itself.
The pattern of abuse
Revathi says that her troubles at the workplace began when she was transferred to a different vertical in July 2017. “The manager I was reporting to – who had been working in this vertical for nine years, and was quite senior to me – kept telling me that I was like his younger sister and that he was from an agricultural background. He said he would help me. One day, he invited me to his room in the UK but I refused,” she recounts.
At a New Year party organised by TCS on January 5 last year, when everyone was taking pictures, the manager allegedly stood imposing over Revathi, intruding into her personal space and making her uncomfortable. This was also the time that Revathi was beginning to negotiate her appraisal with the senior management of TCS in the UK. Her project was coming to an end in April and she was wrapping up her stay in the UK.
Revathi says all this culminated into sexual harassment when her manager invited her to an unscheduled meeting at 7 pm on March 20, 2018 and molested her. Company rules dictate that a Human Resources staff be present during meetings related to an employee’s appraisal and advance notice of the meeting be given. However, this was a one-on-one meeting without prior intimation. She says, “He knew I was leaving the UK soon. He was my manager and was looped in on all matters relating to my appraisal and my assignment coming to an end. He called me for an unscheduled meeting at 6.45 pm. I said that I need to have dinner because of my low blood pressure and blood sugar issues but he insisted the meeting take place right away. When the senior management is involved, why would I talk to him one-on-one? He said that he wanted to close the appraisal in the system. The meeting went on till 11 pm. My mobile phone battery died and he observed this.”
Revathi recounts that as the manager was pacing up and down near the table, he reached out and molested her. She immediately asked to go to the restroom and as she was headed to her desk, the manager accompanied her. Traumatised by the assault, Revathi says she told him that his behaviour was inappropriate. However, he reportedly said that she was powerless since he was her appraiser.
When Revathi returned to her desk, she collapsed and fainted. Colleagues who witnessed this attempted to help her. A sick Revathi was then taken to a colleague's house to recover for the night.
Less than a week after the incident, Revathi mustered the courage to write to her employer about the unscheduled meeting. Fearing stigma and victim-shaming, however, she did not mention the sexual harassment in her initial communication. HR assured Revathi that they would look into the unscheduled one-on-one meeting even as she returned to India in April. In the interim, she received the lowest grade she had received on her appraisal – she had always maintained an A or B grade. She was given a C, a score she objected since it was not in line with the recorded performance.
A botched investigation?
With no reply forthcoming as promised by the Human Resources Department, Revathi attempted to resign a week later and she was once again promised a response. Over a month later on May 30, Revathi received a reply from grievance redressal which merely stated that the meeting should have been in the presence of the HR. However, Revathi alleges that harassment continued even after she returned to India.
“He influenced the managers and HR, and kept raising several allegations against me,” she states in her petition. Unable to overcome the trauma, Revathi attempted to resign a second time in October. When her immediate superiors did not accept her resignation, she finally confided in them about what happened. With the senior staff members advising her to proceed with a sexual harassment complaint, Revathi submitted a complaint to the HR on October 31. Preliminary inquiries did not take place till November 23.
As per the Sexual Harassment of Women at the Workplace (Prevention, Prohibition and Redressal) Act, 2013, Revathi alleges that she was not told about the option of reconciliation and neither was she permitted the assistance of a social worker to help her during the proceedings. While her harasser was allowed to submit his response along with documents including a WhatsApp chat with his wife, Revathi says that she was not allowed to annexe documents or photographs.
The IC also laid the blame on Revathi for confiding in her colleagues about the complaint and proceedings, she says in the petition.
While her harasser reportedly claims that he booked two cabs for Revathi and himself to get back home after the meeting, Revathi – who holds this is false – has alleged that the IC never investigated this with the help of CCTV footage from the UK office.
Further, Revathi alleges that the IC report reeks of bias. It accuses her being 'more concerned with the appraisal and performance rating.' Revathi points that while the same manager who harassed her nominated her for an award in 2017 and gave her a good rating a few days before the incident, his views on her performance had changed on April 4. The IC did not seem to take stock of this either. Moreover, when Revathi pointed this out, the IC Chairperson reportedly condescended to her saying she needed to educate herself on the appraisal procedure at TCS.
The IC also called her ‘hysterical’ in the report. This, reportedly in addition to IC members attending phone calls during the proceedings.
Pointing out the discrepancies in the IC investigation, Revathi says that she was never provided with a copy of her harasser’s testimony or any of the minutes of the meeting of the inquiry – which is the norm for IC proceedings.
Revathi, who has now approached the labour court in Kancheepuram, alleges that the IC proceedings were filled with discrepancies. "He continued to visit the workplace and talk to colleagues during the proceedings, I was never told of informal reconciliation avenues and they kept attending phone calls when I was deposing before them,” says Revathi.
With a long road ahead and up against a corporate giant, Revathi hopes she finally gets the justice she deserves.
A detailed questionnaire sent by The News Minute went unanswered by TCS. When asked for a response, a company representative said, “We won’t be commenting.”