Supreme Court asks Punjab and Haryana High Court to decide the case in ‘accordance with law’.
New Delhi: The Supreme Court on 18 August, while hearing a complaint of sexual harassment at the workplace filed by a former in-house legal counsel of German multinational sportswear manufacturer Adidas, against the said company and two of its employees who are senior members of the legal team, has directed the Punjab and Haryana High Court (PHC) to hear the matter and decide the case in “accordance with law”.
The said matter will be heard by the High Court on 26 September. As per the petition filed by the complainant, who passed out from one of India’s premier law colleges and worked in multiple companies before joining Adidas in November 2017, she was subjected to sexual harassment at her workplace at different time periods and at different places by her two supervisors.
As per the petition in the Supreme Court, which was heard by the bench of Justice Hemant Gupta and Justice Vikram Nath, one of the accused is also on the board of Adidas’ Internal Complaints Committee (IC).
The petition mentions that she raised the issue of the sexual harassment that she was facing, with the Adidas management multiple times, but did not receive any response. According to her, the fact that she brought these incidents of harassment to the notice of the global Adidas team led the two accused to force her to resign from Adidas in January 2019 by giving her a notice period of 4 hours rather than the contract-mandated 30 days.
The petition, which was heard by the Supreme Court, further claims that Adidas officials assured her that an independent and fair investigation would be done in the case. However, the company held back her relieving letter and full and final settlement for six months.
In between all this, Adidas started an investigation of financial fraud against the complainant, which was based on an email sent by one of the accused on 3 March 2019, more than one month after she was forced to resign by them. The said financial fraud, as per Adidas, was done by the complainant in 2017. The said fraud, however, was not brought to her attention till the time she filed the sexual harassment complaint, the petition stated.
Adidas later told the complainant that an inquiry had been completed and it was “closed”. As per the complainant’s statement in the Supreme Court, she was never included in any such investigation, contrary to the provisions of multiple relevant Indian laws.
The complainant approached the Supreme Court after a single bench judge of the Punjab and Haryana High Court on 5 March 2019 quashed all the proceedings that the complainant had brought against Adidas and the two accused including a police complaint on the ground that the complaint was not filed within the time prescribed under “Sexual Harassment of Women at Workplace (Prevention, Prohibition and Redressal Act, 2013)”. The single bench judgment had stated that “it would not be appropriate to go into the other issues except the period of limitation”.
The same single bench judge also disposed of another related petition filed by the complainant in which she had claimed that one of the documents (a report prepared by Gurugram police) filed by the accused in the Punjab and Haryana Court was “forged”. The complainant found that the said document was forged after she filed a Right to Information (RTI) application. This case, too, as per the Supreme Court, will be heard by the High Court again.
The Supreme Court, while hearing the case on 18 August, directed the High Court to decide the petition regarding forged documents in accordance with law. The Sunday Guardian reached out to Adidas with the following set of questions in the matter, seeking the response of the company in the issue: (1) Is the company aware of the allegations levelled by the complainant against the Adidas officials in India?; (2) Is the company providing legal expense fees to the employees against whom these allegations have been brought by the complainant?; (3) Did the company do an internal investigation as required by Indian laws and international practices when it comes to matters related to sexual harassment at work place?; (4) How would Adidas respond to the allegations by the complainant in her application before the Supreme Court that after she raised the matter of sexual harassment, she was harassed by the employees of the company, which ultimately led her to resign from the organization?
In response, Claudia Lange, Head of Media Relations, Adidas, said, “What I can tell you is that we take any allegation of this nature extremely seriously and as a company, we emphatically condemn any form of harassment. Adidas is committed to providing a workplace that is free from harassment of any kind. However, as the matter is before the Honorable High Court of Punjab and Haryana, it would not be appropriate for us to comment in more detail at this time.”