The Tata Group has responded to an ex-employee’s allegations of sexual harassment against former Taj Hotels Chief Executive Officer Rakesh Sarna. The group termed the #MeToo movement as a “watershed moment occurring across the country and the world” and that they “hear” Anjuli Pandit and “recognise the opportunity to raise the bar”, reported The Indian Express on Friday.
On Thursday, Pandit identified herself as the former employee who had accused Sarna of sexual harassment two years ago in a column she wrote for The Indian Express. Her resignation letter alleging sexual harassment by Sarna had anonymously appeared in the media in 2016.
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 quit her job in November 2015, but months later, a law firm approached her on behalf of of Tata Sons asking her to sign a letter stating she had quit the group “purely on personal reasons”. Pandit refused to sign the letter, following which Tata Sons set up a new committee to look into her complaint.
When asked about the allegations, a spokesperson for The Indian Hotels Company Limited which runs Taj Hotels, on Thursday said the matter was investigated and “dealt with by an appropriate independent committee constituted for this purpose.”
In a second response, a Tata Group spokesperson said Pandit’s hearing before the committee was held under the “Tata Code of Conduct”. “Every complaint matters, and each matter is investigated with the highest care and respect, through a rigorous process established under the Tata Code of Conduct,” the spokesperson said. “We have always taken decisive action on evidence of inappropriate conduct in the organisation.”
The Prevention of Sexual Harassment at Workplace Act, 2013 – which applies to complaints like the one made by Pandit, rather than a “code” adopted by a company – mandates that the complainant be given a copy of the report within a stipulated time.
Pandit on Thursday said she had not received a copy of the committee’s findings.
The Tata Group spokesperson, however, said that a former director of The Indian Hotels Company Limited had informed Pandit about the findings of the committee. “The matter regarding Pandit was investigated by an appropriate independent committee,” the spokesperson said.
Pandit on Friday reiterated that she is yet to receive the report. “Since the hearing in August 2016, I repeatedly chased them for a copy of the report,” Pandit told The Indian Express. “All I was told is that I should drop the case now and we should all move on. It was made very clear that they didn’t want to conclude the report. The very next day, I was shocked to see an article in a financial paper stating that Rakesh Sarna has been given a clean chit in the sexual harassment case.”
Tata Sons said it has a “zero tolerance policy when it comes to harassment of any kind”. “We must all acknowledge the pivotal position that corporate workplaces play in promoting inclusive and empowering environments.” it said. “The role of women in the workforce and participation in decision-making structures is mission-critical for our future.”
Meanwhile, National Commission for Women Chairperson Rekha Sharma said the company’s refusal to give Pandit a copy of its report was “totally illegal”. “The survivor can approach us and we will direct the firm to hand over the report to her,” said Sharma.
Sharma said the current composition of the Internal Complaints Committee under the Prevention of Sexual Harassment at Workplace Act fails to protect complainants whose alleged harassers are at a senior level in the organisational structure, as was the case of Sarna.