A former employee of Taj Hotels on Thursday identified herself as the person who had accused a former chief executive officer of the company of sexual harassment two years ago. Anjuli Pandit, a former executive assistant, said she was speaking out against former Chief Executive Officer Rakesh Sarna “inspired by the #MeToo tide”, reported The Indian Express. Her resignation letter alleging sexual harassment by Sarna had anonymously appeared in the media in 2016.
Pandit, who is a citizen of the United States, joined the Tata Group in 2009. Pandit took a break to complete a Master’s degree and then joined Tata Sons in January 14, where she worked in the office of Cyrus Mistry, who was the company’s chairman then. She managed government relations with Europe, West Asia, and North Africa at the time.
Pandit said that a year after she joined Tata Sons, which she described as her “dream job”, Sarna asked if she could be moved to Taj Hotels as his executive assistant.
“In December, we had an uncomfortable phone call to discuss my salary and when I wasn’t happy with his offer, Sarna said, ‘I think you are beautiful enough to pay you a crore but I don’t have that kind of money honey’,” Pandit told the daily. “That was the first indication I had that something was not right.”
In a column that Pandit wrote for The Indian Express published on Thursday, she said senior colleagues and the chairman encouraged her to take on the role.
“Over the seven months he remarked on my looks, his attraction to me and his desire to have an affair,” Pandit wrote. “His advances were always verbal. And I was always clear – I was not interested. Whether I deflected, professionally requested, or burst into tears in frustration, he persisted. The environment became intolerable as we both lost our patience.”
Pandit said she could not lodge a complaint with the Prevention of Sexual Harassment committee at Taj Hotels as Sarna and his subordinates were members. Pandit said she confided in Taj Board members, Tata Group Executive Council members, the chairperson, and the senior HR official, but the resolution they offered was to ask her to resign from Taj Hotels.
Pandit said she was offered a “mediocre role” in a Tata Sons back office. “When I said I felt I was being unfairly sidelined for speaking up, the chairman told me this was the “best we can do”,” she said.
In November 2015, Pandit quit her job citing hostile environment at work due to Sarna’s “repeated unwanted sexual advances”. In July 2016, law firm AZB & Partners, on behalf of Tata Sons, approached her to sign a letter stating her “decision to quit the Tata Group was based purely on personal reasons”. Pandit, however, refused to sign the letter, following which Tata Sons set up a new committee to look into her matter.
The minutes of her deposition before the committee in the Tata Capital Office in Mumbai in August 2016, which are available with The Indian Express, show that Pandit detailed Sarna’s “inappropriate behaviour” and comments on her appearance, her clothes, and his propositions.
In November 2016, Pandit’s resignation letter was published on news outlets without naming her. A report at the time in the The Economic Times said the handling of the sexual harassment case may have been one of the factors for Mistry’s dismissal as chairperson of Tata Sons in October 2016. Sarna resigned in May 2017.
Pandit said she has not yet been given a copy of the committee’s findings. “I have written to everyone including current Tata Sons chairperson with a copy to head of HR for Taj, for a copy of the final report. But I never received a response,” she told the daily.
When asked about the allegations, a spokesperson for The Indian Hotels Company Limited, which runs Taj Hotels, said the matter was investigated and “dealt with by an appropriate independent committee constituted for this purpose.”
A spokesperson for Tata Sons declined to comment to The Indian Express, saying the matter concerned Taj Hotels. The newspaper was unable to contact Sarna for a comment.