Khaitan Associate resigns citing "unprofessionalism" in dealing with sexual harassment complaint; Law Firm responds

Bar & Bench June 28 2019
Khaitan & co

An employee of Khaitan & Co has handed in her resignation citing the “unprofessionalism” with which the firm’s Prevention of Sexual Harassment (POSH) committee handled her complaint.

In a 12-page letter written to Partner Haigreve Khaitan in May 2019, the former Associate has detailed the events pertaining to the alleged sexual harassment by a fellow Associate and the procedure that followed the filing of the complaint.

The letter states that though the committee found that the incident had in fact happened, it held that the respondent did not intend to sexually harass the complainant. In response to this finding, the complainant has stated that “the law does not require establishing intent as a requirement of determining sexual harassment”.

A summary of some of the lapses in the procedure followed by the POSH committee as highlighted by the complainant in the letter are as follows:

  1. The firm’s policy and the law do not lay down the requirement of intent as a prerequisite for determining the violation of the law.
  2. She was not asked to provide her complaint in writing. A written response to the respondent’s written statement submitted by her on March 5 this year was not addressed by the committee before it reached its findings. The letter states that she was not given a copy of the respondent’s written statement, which was only shown to her briefly on a laptop.
  3. As per the firm’s policy, the complainant is required to submit a list of witnesses to the committee. The letter claims that she was not asked to provide any such list, though the respondent was specifically asked to do so.
  4. The alleged perpetrator had sent a response to the complainant’s statement in January 2019. However, the complainant was given a copy of the same only on February 13, a few minutes before the meeting with the committee was scheduled to take place. It is also claimed that the complainant received very little notice of when such meetings would take place.

The complainant also states that a Partner at Khaitan who she had confided in, breached confidentiality and violated her privacy by informing the committee of certain facts of her personal life in his written statement.

Towards the end of the letter, the complainant states,

“I also hope that my partners and this firm would ensure that someone who is motivated and committed towards their work shall not be put in such a hostile environment again and that the working environment in the firm is professional and friendly. I also hope that the members of the POSH committee are made aware of the insensitivity, unprofessionalism, and lapses of procedure that they have followed in my complaint and I would like to believe that the next instance of a POSH complaint shall be dealt in a proper and professional manner.”

In response to the allegations, Khaitan has denied that there was any wrongdoing in the internal process. A statement made by Executive Director Amar Sinhji reads,

"As a Firm we have all the required processes, checks & balances in place to deal with such issues. We ensure that they are dealt with in a completely unbiased and independent manner. These issues are internal to the firm and confidential under the applicable law. We have no further comments on the same."

 

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