Araceli Roiz pregnant, will sue Phaneesh Murthy and iGate, says lawyer

Murthy told the iGate board of his relationship with Roiz only after she informed him that she will be taking legal action against him, says Roiz's lawyer

hidden May 24, 2013 10:10:51 IST
Araceli Roiz pregnant, will sue Phaneesh Murthy and iGate, says lawyer

By Mitu Jayashankar and N S Ramnath

Phaneesh Murthy was asked to leave iGate because Araceli Roiz, the company's head of investor relations, was allegedly pregnant with his child, and the Fremont, California-based IT firm faced the risk of a multi-million dollar lawsuit.

Murthy told the iGate board of his relationship with Roiz only after she informed him that she will be taking legal action against him, Roiz's legal firm Aiman-Smith & Marcy said in a statement released early this morning.

"When Ms Roiz refused to have an abortion, Mr. Murthy attempted to get her to leave the company and keep their relationship a secret," her legal firm Aiman-Smith & Marcy said in a statement released early this morning.

Araceli Roiz pregnant will sue Phaneesh Murthy and iGate says lawyer

Phaneesh Murthy. Reuters.

"It was not until after Ms Roiz refused to do so and informed him that she would be seeking legal representation and her lawyers contacted Mr. Murthy's counsel that he reluctantly informed the Board of the relationship, just before the Board would have learned on its own from other sources. On behalf of Ms Roiz, we are contemplating next steps, which will certainly include court action against Mr. Murthy and iGate."

Earlier in the evening Forbes India had asked Phaneesh Murthy if Ms Roiz was carrying his child.

In a brief statement sent through his spokesperson Murthy said, "There are always two sides to the truth and now that the matter is definitely heading to court, I can't comment anymore."

In an investor call on Tuesday, iGate said Roiz was on a medical leave.

On May 21, when the news of his resignation became public, Murthy had spoken to us over telephone from his residence in Fremont, California.

He said he had informed the chairman of the board of his relationship with Ms Roiz "a couple of months back". When asked why he chose that time to speak to the chairman, Murthy said, "There were a variety of reasons". He refused to say anymore than this.

We also spoke to Roiz's lawyer, Randall Aiman-Smith, after the release was issued. Here are the edited excerpts of the interaction:

Q. Did Murthy know Roiz before her employment in iGate?

A. No.

Q. When exactly did Roiz come to know about her pregnancy?

A. March 2013

Q. Approximate date that Murthy informed the board about their relationship?

A. May 2, 2013

Q. When did Roiz approach your law firm?

A. That information is confidential under law; it would be inappropriate for me to disclose it.

Q. When did this interaction between Ms Roiz's lawyers and Murthy's counsel take place?

A. It was part of a process; I'm not sure of the timing, but if I understand your question, I think it was after April, 2013.

Q. When did your firm inform iGate about the issue? (Murthy said he came to know about the sexual harassment claim after your firm sent a letter of complaint to iGate's legal team. I would like to know when this happened.)

A. Mr. Murthy was aware of his own actions, and that they were wrong and illegal from the minute he began his actions toward my client well over a year ago. We did not "inform" (in the sense of bringing something to their attention for the first time) iGate's legal team of anything; Murthy informed iGate's board of his relationship with my client on his own when he realised we were about to file suit. By the time I communicated with iGate's board they were aware of the issues involved. This was in May 2013.

Q. You say Murthy attempted to get her out of iGate, what exactly were his attempts?

A. He told her to leave.

Q. You suggest that you are not happy with iGate's investigation. Why?

A. According to iGate, its investigation is ongoing. Accordingly, I am neither happy nor unhappy. What I did say is that a full, complete, reasonable, competent investigation will result in a finding that Mr. Murthy committed sex harassment as that term is defined by law in California.

Q. You also state that "when Roiz tried to extricate herself from the relationship, he reduced her responsibilities, threatened her continued employment, and pressured her to continue the relationship." Did this happen before or after her pregnancy?

A. At various times, before, and then continuing thereafter.

Q. Can you please give the timeline of events?

A. This was a complicated series of events; I can't provide a complete version because it is too complicated; and a shortened version would be subject to misinterpretation.

Q. Are there any parallels between this case and the two previous cases you handled, what are the parallels?

A. Yes, there are several. Mr. Murthy's approach to all victims was the same: to impose upon the victims personally to blur the distinction between work and personal issues as a means to breaking down the defenses of the victims. Second, both Infosys and iGate failed to have necessary oversight and reporting procedures in place to prevent Mr. Murthy's actions or to provide a meaningful means for reporting them.

Here's the full text of the lawyer's statement:

The law firm Aiman-Smith & Marcy announced today that they represent Araceli Roiz with respect to her claims for sex harassment against Phaneesh Murthy and iGate. As is well known, the attorneys in the firm previously represented Reka Maximovitch and Jennifer Griffith in sex harassment lawsuits against Mr. Murthy for his actions while employed at Infosys.

On behalf of Ms Roiz, we are contemplating next steps, which will certainly include court action against Mr. Murthy and iGate. In such action, we will support, at minimum, the following facts.

Ms Roiz was employed at iGate starting in May 2010. She remains employed, though on medical leave at present. She worked in Investor Relations. Her nominal supervisor was iGate's CFO, Sujit Sircar. However, Mr. Sircar was based in India, so Ms Roiz's day to day supervisor was Mr. Murthy.

In his role as Ms Roiz's supervisor, Mr. Murthy, as he had with his previous victims, insinuated himself into Ms Roiz's personal life using the pretext of business necessity. In this way, Mr. Murthy was able to induce Ms Roiz into behavior and action that she would have found unthinkable at the beginning of her employment. The only reason Mr. Murthy was able to engage in these abusive and harassing actions is because he was Ms Roiz's employer. The CEO of any company, as Mr. Murthy was here, has tremendous economic and personal power over his subordinates. Thus, Ms Roiz was dependent on her continued employment for her basic living expenses and, further, Mr. Murthy conditioned her further employment and career advancement opportunities on her entering into a relationship with him which, eventually and reluctantly, she did. When she tried to extricate herself from the relationship, he reduced her responsibilities, threatened her continued employment, and pressured her to continue the relationship.

As a result of Mr. Murthy's influence over Ms Roiz, she continued the relationship with him and ultimately, Ms Roiz became pregnant with Mr. Murthy's child. When he discovered this, Mr. Murthy pressured Ms Roiz to have an abortion. When she refused, he told her to leave the company, quietly, to protect his position as CEO.

California's Fair Employment and Housing Act prohibits discrimination on the basis of sex, which includes discrimination on the basis of pregnancy, and prohibits harassment on the basis of sex, which includes conditioning any form of employment benefit on a sexual relationship. This law recognizes the basic truth that a supervisor has tremendous power over a subordinate both economically and personally. When the supervisor is the CEO and member of the Board of Directors, as Mr. Murthy was here, that power is magnified exponentially. As one California court stated: "Sexual harassment exists in terribly harsh, ugly, demeaning, and even debilitating ways. It is a form of violence against women as well as a form of economic coercion." Bihun v. AT&T Information Systems, Inc. (1993) 13 Cal. App. 4th 976, 1005. Accordingly, there is no doubt in our mind that Mr. Murthy is liable for sex harassment of Ms Roiz here.

Under California law, because Mr. Murthy was an officer and director of iGate, his actions were the actions of iGate, and iGate, too, is liable for the acts of Mr. Murthy. There remains the question of whether, given Mr. Murthy's history of predatory actions toward female employees, iGate did all that it should have done to oversee and control Mr. Murthy and to provide some method for women at iGate to report his actions. We have been in communication with iGate's attorneys and iGate has stated that it is continuing its investigation. Accordingly, we are not going to comment further at this time regarding iGate's separate role in this matter.

Those are the facts as we expect them to be proved in Court. Had Mr. Murthy not convened a very public press conference in which he attempted to make himself look better by lying and slandering Ms Roiz, she would not have endured the embarrassment and humiliation of making these facts public; however, she has been forced to do so to counter Mr. Murthy's very public, false statements.

With respect to specific issues raised by iGate and Mr. Murthy in the press, we respond to several points.

1. As to the timing of Mr. Murthy's announcement to the Board:

When Ms Roiz refused to have an abortion, Mr. Murthy attempted to get her to leave the company and keep their relationship a secret. It was not until after Ms Roiz refused to do so and informed him that she would be seeking legal representation and her lawyers contacted Mr. Murthy's counsel that he reluctantly informed the Board of the relationship, just before the Board would have learned on its own from other sources.

2. As to Mr. Murthy's comments in his press conference that the relationship lasted "only a few months":

Mr. Murthy's statement is a lie - Mr. Murthy began pursuing Ms Roiz shortly after her employment began in 2010.

3. As to Mr. Murthy's comments that Ms Roiz or her attorneys are engaging in "extortion" by capitalizing on his prior reputation:

Mr. Murthy's comments are defamatory and a despicable attempt to "blame the victim," who only wants to somehow continue her career and support her child. Mr. Murthy has, astonishingly, attempted to gain sympathy based on his own prior bad actions. Ms Roiz selected the law firm, Aiman-Smith & Marcy, based upon the firm's excellent reputation as vigorous advocates for victims of employment discrimination and its prior success in getting compensation for some of Mr. Murthy's previous victims. More information on the law firm can be found at www.asmlawyers.com

4. As to iGate's press statement that Mr. Murthy had not violated its sexual harassment policy:

As noted, under California law, the employer is liable for the conduct of its CEO. We do not believe a full, impartial, investigation can possibly result in this conclusion, but we note that, according to iGate, its investigation is continuing. We hope that iGate will take appropriate responsibility in this matter and that it can be concluded on that basis.

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