Randall Aiman-Smith, 50, of Oakland-based McPhee and Aiman-Smith, is the attorney of Reka Maximovitch, who filed a sexual harassment complaint against Infosys Technologies Ltd and its US-based former head of global sales and marketing division, Phaneesh Murthy, on December 17, 2001, at the Superior Court of California in Alameda in Oakland. Reka was earlier Murthy's executive assistant. Kamla Bhatt spoke to Aiman-Smith about the case in Oakland, California. Excerpts:
When did Reka Maximovitch come to you, and how long did it take to draft the complaint?
Reka Maximovitch was a friend of a client we already had. My office specialises in complex large employment and class action cases. Obviously, I met and spoke with her in advance to gain information to file the complaint. I am not sure, but I probably met her a month or two before.
The complaint makes it clear that Maximovitch had a relationship with Murthy. Don't you think it weakens the case?
No, it does not. I am kind of astonished that anybody would say that. I don't think anybody will consider this as defence. It is one thing if the relationship is consensual, but in this case it was coercive. It is against the law in this country for a person who is in economic power, an employer, to coerce an employee, a subordinate. Putting pressure is violation of California and federal law. The predatory stalking and pressure is not good defence.
Why did Maximovitch not resort to the internal mechanism available at Infosys? It has an established process for sexual harassment.
I think the complaint addresses the issue. Paragraph nine of the complaint addresses your question. (Para 9 from the complaint: "Murthy repeatedly told plaintiff that he was in complete charge of all of Infosys' United States operations, that he answered to no one regarding how he ran the United States offices, and that no one in the United States had the authority to compel him to take, or not to take, any action regarding Infosys or its employees. Plaintiff observed that Murthy in fact had such authority, that he hired and fired employees on whim, and that he took pride in his ability to control people's lives and careers in this way.")
You have a process in place but if the people charged with carrying out the process are subordinate to the harasser, then the process cannot work. That is what paragraph 9 says. It says that Murthy was in charge of the US operations and answerable to no one in this country.
Is Maximovitch working at the moment?
She's not, and is on disability.
How do you think Infosys and Murthy plan to defend?
There are two defendants: Infosys and Phaneesh Murthy. Because Murthy is placed so highly in Infosys, his action is deemed to be that of the company under California law. As I understand it, he has already gone on CNBC in India (I have not seen it) and he has gone to deny it. I guess his defence will be to deny it. In our system, it is perfectly legal to say that you did not do it, even though that might not be the case. It is up to the plaintiff to prove it. Usually, the response to a plaintiff's complaint is a pro forma denial, the most common response. The answer to the complaint is not due until August 19, and I think he will deny it.
What is your next course of action?
The next phase of the lawsuit is discovery, when the plaintiff and the defendant will look at each other's records, and where each party gets to question witnesses under oath. Both parties have the opportunity to demand to look at the documentary evidence of each other. This will happen after the defendant files a response to the complaint.
How much money are you looking for?
In California, you don't say the money being sought.I can tell you in less serious cases, California courts have awarded multiple million dollars and these have been upheld on appeal. The compliant is not supposed to say the dollar amount in this kind of case. In injury kind of cases, which this is, you don't state the amount.
Is there anything else you want to say about the case that is not in the complaint?
Since filing the lawsuit, we have learnt how seriously this matter is being taken in India, the public concern with regard to the lawsuit at least in the tech industry. There also seems to be a perception among some people in India that the Americans sue at the drop of a hat. We represent a person who is seriously injured. She has suffered serious psychological injury, and is under physician's care. We want a just result for her.