A Sexual Harassment Complaint and the Fallout|Business Ethics|Case Study|Case Studies
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Case Details

Case Code: BECG149
Case Length: 13 Pages 
Period: 2013 - 2014    
Pub Date: 2017
Teaching Note: Available
Organization : Tehelka
Industry : Media
Countries : India
Themes: Business Ethics/ Gender  / Organizational Behavior  
Case Studies  
Business Strategy
Human Resource Management
IT and Systems
Leadership & Entrepreneurship

A Sexual Harassment Complaint and the Fallout

Won the 2017 Dark Side Case Award organized by Critical Management Studies division of Academy of Management, Atlanta, Georgia, USA.
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Shoma was a senior journalist and a prolific writer and columnist and political commentator in India. In 2000, she joined Tehelka and was part of the team that started tehelka.com. When Tehelka was forced to shut down in 2003, Shoma was one of the four people who stayed on to fight, reposition, and relaunch it as a national weekly. After that, she worked as Director of Special Projects and Features Editor at Tehelka, later becoming the Managing Editor of the magazine. Shoma wrote extensively on critical issues of economic and social development, including state, caste, and gender politics, and issues related to Muslim identity; Maoist insurgency and terrorism; corruption of the state, and issues of capitalist development and land grab. Her creative writing and independent thinking catapulted her into the league of the finest and most powerful journalists in India...

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On November 18, 2013, Shoma received an e-mail from Nina alleging that Tarun had sexually assaulted her on two occasions in the elevator of a five-star hotel in Goa. Nina was a young promising journalist in her twenties who had been working for Tehelka since January 2010. A native of Delhi, Nina joined the group as an intern at Tehelka’s Delhi office and was confirmed as a trainee journalist in February 2010. In May 2012, after her promotion as Principal Correspondent, she was transferred to Tehelka’s office in Mumbai. As of end 2013, she was a Senior Correspondent with Tehelka in Mumbai....


Immediately after receiving the complaint from Nina, Shoma consulted a lawyer-friend who directed her to seek an apology from Tarun as demanded by the victim. She then confronted Tarun and asked for an unconditional apology to the victim. Shoma said that Tarun had presented a different version of the incident to her saying that it was consensual. But, she overruled his version and told him that as a leader of the organization he had misbehaved and betrayed the faith of other journalists. According to Shoma, she gave credence to the victim’s version of events and neither questioned her nor cross-checked it with the colleagues mentioned in the complaint. On November 19, 2013, the very next day of receiving the complaint, Shoma pressed Tarun to send a letter containing an unconditional apology to the victim and acknowledged that she had drafted the letter on Tarun’s behalf in accordance with what the victim wanted. In the letter sent to Nina, Tarun reportedly ..


The victim’s e-mail with the details of the alleged sexual assault, Tarun’s apology, and Shoma’s letter to her staff were leaked online although they were never intended to be in the public domain. With the matter having gone public, there was a huge media outcry. The incident led to an uproar in the Indian media, sparking a widespread debate on social networking sites such as Facebook and Twitter, dominating headlines in newspapers, and leading conversations on prime-time television. The sexual assault allegations by Nina led to outrage among women activists who condemned Tarun’s actions and demanded criminal proceedings against him. Some women’s groups felt that Tarun was no God to decide his own course of punishment and that the rule of law must prevail and the perpetrator be brought to justice. ..


Nina was deeply distressed by rumors that her complaint had been politically motivated and the assertions that the institution had suffered due to the crisis as she had chosen to speak out. She said that Tarun was trying to vilify her character. On November 25, 2013, Shoma received a resignation letter from Nina expressing unhappiness over the way the organization had handled the case. Nina wrote that she was deeply disturbed by the lack of support from the organization and that it was untenable for her to continue to work for Tehelka...


Shoma drew flak from the media and feminists for her decisions and comments in the case. Her feminist principles were questioned and she came under heavy criticism for taking the in-house probe route instead of seeking a police investigation into the matter. According to some analysts, the new Sexual Harassment law stated that an employer needed to report incidents which fell under the rape law to the authorities, while offering supporting to the victim. Hence, Shoma had been legally obliged to report to the police. Instead, she had acted on her own, they said. Some critics slammed her for violating the law by not having a legally mandated sexual harassment committee in place at Tehelka....


Exhibit I:Sexual Harassment Law in India
Exhibit II: Regulations under the New Criminal Law (Amendment) Act 2013