Los Angeles: The sordid saga of Phaneesh Murthy of Infosys and Reka Maximovitch eventually wound to a halt at least as far as Ms Maximovitch was concerned when Infosys settled the sexual harassment case out of court for $3 million.
Under the terms of the settlement, the company retained rights to proceed legally against Mr Murthy. Randall Aiman-Smith of the Oakland, Ca. law firm McPhee and Aiman-Smith represented Ms Maximovitch in the case.
Whats the message that you hope the settlement and its amount sends?
That corporations should keep a close eye on high level employees.
What were the main areas of contention? Mr Narayana Murthy of Infosys has said compensation demanded was in multiples of what had been settled.
Settlement negotiations are private. The principal issues that had to be worked out were the amount to be paid in settlement and the scope of the releases against the various parties. It would be inappropriate for me to comment further on this issue.
What was Ms Maximovitchs reaction to the settlement?
Obviously, Ms Maximovitch approved the settlement or it would not have happened. She hopes this sends a clear message to corporations to monitor the actions of high level employees and to make and enforce policies regarding sex harassment in the workplace.
How do you think Infosys India-based management handled the case?
We believe that Infosys India-based management handled this litigation appropriately and professionally.
Were there any cultural misunderstandings at play here in terms of less comprehension of what was suitable behavior in an office and what was not?
I am not an expert in this field; all I know about womens rights in India is what I have read from various sources on the Internet.
From these sources it appears that the plight of women generally in India is worse than in the United States and further that, in India a certain amount of harassment is considered to be, if not appropriate, within the bounds of societal tolerance.
The concept of eve teasing which I have read about as prevalent in India, appears to be a diminutive way to describe what would be considered very serious conduct in the United States.
Does what happened to Ms Maximovitch mean that sexual harassment policies that are on the books in these Silicon Valley companies dont really work?
No policy works unless there is some enforcement mechanism that can curb inappropriate behaviour.
In theory, an executive that violates a sex harassment policy should be subject to discipline, including termination, in appropriate circumstances.
However, companies in the US often run into the problem of an economically valuable executive who engages in inappropriate conduct.
In such situations a company can either get rid of the executive or absorb the costs of his actions through settlement with the victims.
This kind of conduct is, sadly, fairly common. One social good that comes from Ms Maximovitchs settlement is that companies will have to consider that the cost of an executives conduct may be quite high.
The suit alleged a long pattern of sexually-oriented conduct by Murthy, including economic pressure, threats, coercion, and stalking. Was any wrongdoing admitted to by either Murthy or Infosys?
This settlement, like every settlement I have ever been involved with, includes a denial of any wrongdoing by all defendants.
The case has received a lot of attention in India. I dont know how much of the coverage you have seen in the Indian and Indian American press but what do you think has been missing from the coverage or what they got right?
This is a very interesting question. I was only able to read the Indian press that is available on the Internet but I did read as much of that as I could find.
The Indian press was generally very thorough and balanced in its approach to the case. There did seem to be a misunderstanding of some of the procedural aspects of the United Sates legal system such as the length of time it takes cases to be filed and served.
It also appeared to me that the press approach reflected a belief that the United States legal system is some kind of lottery or that it is prone to misuse by the filing of meaningless suits; there seemed to be an underlying attitude that in America everybody sues everybody and astronomical damages for modest injuries are common.
This is simply not true. Although unusual situations get a lot of press coverage, the vast, vast majority of United States lawsuits are brought by persons who have really been injured and whose only goal is reasonable compensation for real injuries.
In my entire career I have not participated in, and do not personally know anyone who has participated in, a lawsuit that was frivolous or brought in bad faith, or where the damages paid were substantially out of line with either the defendants conduct or the injuries suffered.
Your press release said, While Phaneesh Murthys conduct toward female employees appears to have been something of an open secret in Infosys Fremont offices, the extent of the knowledge of Infosyss India-based managers was under continuing investigation at the time the suit was settled. Is this something that matters anymore now? What is the significance of this?
The significance of this comment relates to Infosys India based managements claims that Phaneesh Murthys conduct was unknown until this suit was filed. This assertion appears to have been true although we never definitively answered that question.
Whats next for Ms Maximovitch? Is her and your legal journey over?
Ms Maximovitch intends to continue the healing process and to get on with her life in private. This law firm will continue to represent women and minorities who have suffered discrimination or harassment in the workplace.