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Coke seeks to cap Sen storm
- Soft drink major denies harassment payout

New Delhi, Dec. 9: Coca-Cola India today issued a denial of a report that said the company had settled out-of-court with its former brand ambassador Sushmita Sen for Rs 1.45 crore over a sexual harassment charge.

The payout pertained to a dispute over a celebrity endorsement contract and nothing else, the statement said.

“This was a dispute between a corporate and its brand ambassador with respect to the celebrity engagement contract. The matter was discussed between lawyers of both sides. Both parties are bound by the confidentiality clause under the said contract,” Coca-Cola India vice-president Sunil Gupta said.

“Contrary to speculative media reports, (the) consideration settled relates only to the terms of the celebrity engagement contract and bears no relation to the so-called allegation of harassment,” he said.

Gupta cited the confidentiality clause while declining to confirm the Rs 1.45-crore amount Coke reportedly paid Sen.

The soft-drinks company was rocked by a report that alleged the money was paid to Sen to settle the harassment charge against Coke’s marketing head Sripad Nadkarni.

A spokesperson for Sen said her lawyer was away and so she could not comment on the issue. Former chief justice of India S.P. Barucha is now reportedly investigating the charges of sexual misconduct.

According to reports, Sen, Coke’s former endorser, first levelled the charge in a legal notice of April 7 her solicitors, Bachubhai Munim and Company, sent to Coke.

Coca-Cola ended its deal with the model-turned-actress on February 23 when she was supposed to have alleged this was being done as she refused to succumb to a senior Coke official’s sexual overtures.

According to Gupta, Sen was signed as a brand ambassador for Thums Up in February 2001 and her contract was valid till January 31 next year. Bipasha Basu and Akshay Kumar, Gupta added, are the new ambassadors for Thums Up.

This is the second instance of a top Indian corporate executive getting embroiled in allegations of sexual harassment.

Last year, Infosys’ top executive in the US, Phaneesh Murthy, was forced to quit the company after an American employee filed a sexual harassment charge against him in a California court.

Murthy left the company amid denials. But early this year, Infosys, a party to the case, reached an out-of-court settlement with the former employee, with Murthy claiming he was not party to the deal.

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