Did sexual harassment case against Taj CEO play a role in Cyrus Mistry's ouster?

Updated: Nov 13, 2016, 12:15 IST | mid-day online correspondent |

The handling of a sexual harassment case against Indian Hotels Co. Ltd (IHCL) boss Rakesh Sarna may have been among the reasons that led to the ouster of Cyrus Mistry as Tata Sons

Rakesh Sarna and Cyrus Mistry
Rakesh Sarna and Cyrus Mistry

The handling of a sexual harassment case against Indian Hotels Co. Ltd (IHCL) boss Rakesh Sarna may have been among the reasons that led to the ouster of Cyrus Mistry as Tata Sons.

According to a report in the Economic Times, the woman left the Tata group a year back, and Mistry’s office said he had strictly followed protocols, and that an inquiry was ongoing. The suggestions of delay in investigation against Sarna were also dismissed. The lady executive, who earlier worked with members of Mistry's Group Executive Council (GEC) was "requested" by Sarna to move to Taj, the report further said.

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The woman first opened up about Sarna in 2015, after which she was shifted to another department in the Tata group. Also, before she resigned in November the year, she revealed what circumstances under which she quit.

In a letter to Mistry, a copy of which is with Economic Times, the woman wrote, “Although I thoroughly enjoyed the challenge and responsibility of the Taj role (at IHCL) and had great working relationship with the rest of the company, Mr Sarna's inappropriate behaviour outweighed the positives of the work. 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 Economic Times report further said that in the letter the woman claimed that she confided in senior Tata Group officials including former GEC members Madhu Kannan, NS Rajan who was also the chief human resources officer of the conglomerate and Ireena Vittal, independent director of IHC. "I came to you in confidence because I felt a large amount of loyalty to the House of Tata. I believed I was a valued member of the Tata family and that discretion would help you to find a solution which is best for me, Taj and the Tata Group."

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The letter further read, "I acknowledge you telling me that in six month's time I will be able to put my career back on track, however I do not see the reason why it should be taken off-track considering my high performances in my last roles and my choice of discretion. Also I do not have any tangible proof this will happen, and considering this transition was not done in the best interest of my career, I no longer feel my career is secure in Tata Group.”

The letter continued, “I must move out of the Tata group and into an organisation which values and respects women's rights. I hope you are able to use my circumstances as a learning opportunity to make the group a better employer of women.”

According to the report in Economic Times, the matter came to Ratan Tata’s attention in June 2016, and he took it up with Mistry. It was only after the former’s intervention that an independent probe was initiated.

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