Tata-Mistry spat gets murkier with IHCL sexual harassment case; Cyrus camp denies charge

The Ratan Tata-Cyrus Mistry spat just got murkier as details of a sexual harassment-related case, which was doing the rounds in the social media, were just made public through various media reports today.

A report in The Economic Times today said the handling of a sexual harassment complaint against Indian Hotels Company chief Rakesh Sarna may have been one of of the factors that led to the abrupt removal of Mistry as chairman of Tata Sons on 24 October.

Tata-Mistry spat gets murkier with IHCL sexual harassment case; Cyrus camp denies charge

Ratan Tata and Cyrus Mistry. AFP

According to the report, the woman who alleged sexual harassment by Sarna had written to Mistry on 3 November, 2015 revealing her decision to move out of the group due to the difficult situation.

On 9 November 2015, then group human resource head NS Rajan had requested the woman staffer to meet chief ethics officer Mukund Rajan and group general counsel Bharat Vasani.

The issue reached Ratan Tata by June 2016, who discussed the issue with Mistry. In July 2016, an investigation committee was formed. The panel is yet to submit a report, the report says.

According to a report on CNBC-TV18, Tata disapproved of the manner in which sexual harassment complaint against Sarna was handled by Mistry.

According to a report in The Times of India, the woman executive had quit the Tata group saying she would like to "move into an organisation which values and respects women's rights".

“During my seven months employment at Taj, I was subjected to repeated unwanted sexual advances from Mr Sarna. When I ignored or tried to rebuff them the environment turned hostile,” the ET report quotes citing the letter written by the complainant to the Tatas.

According to the portions of the letter reported in ToI, after the women complained to Mistry about Sarna's misbehaviour, she was transferred back to Tata Sons, which she considered as a "demotion".

However, when Firstpost contacted, Cyrus Mistry's office denied any lapse in dealing with the complaint.

It accepted that the woman approached Mistry and informed him that she had experienced unwelcome behaviour by a "senior Indian Hotels Company employee".

"Mr Mistry was very upset as this was absolutely against his belief of a safe work environment. Mr Mistry set aside time to meet with her and assured her that the Tata Group stands fully committed to support her," the statement said.

Mistry immediately initiated an interim measure of providing an appropriate short-term alternate and safe work environment until the matter could be investigated and appropriately addressed, the statement said.

"The Group HR Head was directed to create an appropriate interim position. An interim senior role, directly reporting to a Group Executive Council member in the Corporate Communications team was identified. Despite Tata Sons and IHCL having different grades and designation structures, care was taken to ensure that her current emoluments were protected. Despite several attempts to retain her, she decided not to accept the position and instead wished to pursue a career outside of Tatas," the statement said.

She also was informed that the matter was being taken "very "seriously and promised a thorough enquiry.  "At her request to put the issue behind her, an enquiry was not set up at that point in time," the statement said.

A senior independent director of IHCL constituted a committee to investigate the matter and the panel members included "very senior people independent of the company".

"The report is awaited and the board of IHCL will decide on next steps on the basis of the Committee's findings," the statement said. A source from Mistry's office said an action on Sarna can be taken only after the panel submits the report.

Mistry also instructed a review of the implementation of POSH (Prevention of Sexual Harassment) policy and practices across Tata Group companies. Representatives from various Tata companies, the Group Ethics Office, Group Legal and Group HR were included in this exercise to ensure the highest standards and values are protected, including providing a safe work environment for all Tata Group employees.

Firstpost is now on WhatsApp. For the latest analysis, commentary and news updates, sign up for our WhatsApp services. Just go to Firstpost.com/Whatsapp and hit the Subscribe button.

Updated Date: Nov 11, 2016 10:57:58 IST