Apparel Export Promotion Council v. A. K. Chopra,
AIR 1999 SC 625: 1999 AIR SCW 274: 1999 Lab IC 918
Facts: The respondent was working as a Private Secretary to the Chairman of the Apparel Export Promotion Council, the appellant. It was alleged that on 12-8-1988, he tried to molest a woman employee of the Council, Miss X ( name withheld by court) who was at the relevant time working as a Clerk-cum-Typist. She submitted a written complaint. The respondent was placed under suspension vide an order dated 18 th August, 1988. A charge-sheet was served on him to which he gave a reply denying the allegations. The Enquiry Officer after considering the documentary and oral evidence and the circumstances of the case arrived at the conclusion that the respondent had acted against moral sanctions and that his acts against Miss X did not withstand the test of decency and modesty. He, therefore held the charges levelled against the respondent as proved.
The respondent filed a Writ Petition in the High Court inter alia challenging his removal from service. On January 30, 1992, the writ petition was allowed and respondent Nos. 1 and 3, were directed to act upon the decision of the Staff Committee, assuming as if the decision, as alleged, had been taken at the 34 th Meeting of the Staff Committee on 25 th July, 1990. The appellant challenged the Judgment and Order of the High Court dated 30 th January, 1992, through Special Leave Petition (Civil) No. 3204 of 1992 in the Supreme Court.
Issue: Whether the High Court has jurisdiction to interfere with the disciplinary matters and punishment imposed by departmental authorities?
Decision: In a case involving charge of sexual harassment or attempt to sexually molest, the courts are required to examine broader probabilities of the case and not get swayed by insignificant discrepancies or narrow technicalities or dictionary meaning of the expression "molestation". They must examine the entire material to determine the genuineness of the complaint. The statement of the victim must be appreciated in the background of the entire case.
It was further held that each incident of sexual harassment at place of work, results in violation of fundamental right to gender equalities and right to life and personal liberty.
It was also further held that mere want of actual assault or touch by delinquent did not cease to be outrageous. It amounts to sexual harassment and the court is not to normally interfere with either the factual findings regarding guilt or with penalty or punishment imposed by departmental authorities.