The Telegraph
Since 1st March, 1999
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Phaneesh headed for out-of-court deal

Washington, Aug. 22: The high profile sexual harassment case against Phaneesh Murthy, a former US-based executive of Infosys Technologies Ltd, may be settled out of court without a public trial.

Randall Aiman-Smith, attorney for Reka Maximovitch, a former Infosys employee who has accused Murthy of subjecting her “to verbal sexual harassment, to unwanted sexual advances, and to visual sexual harassment”, said in a statement in San Francisco that talks for an out-of-court settlement would start on September 6.

Aiman-Smith told local media that Murthy, Infosys and Maximovitch, 30, an American citizen of Bulgarian descent, would all be parties to the negotiations.

The Alameda County Superior Court in Oakland, California, had given time till August 19 to the defendants to respond to the charges. Murthy has already denied them. Infosys has filed a “standard denial of the allegations” in the petition.

Maximovitch, who was Murthy’s executive assistant, joined his staff on October 18, 1999. Her petition to the court says Murthy “told plaintiff that as his executive assistant she would be able to learn marketing techniques and skills that would allow her either to advance at Infosys or to obtain favourable employment elsewhere based on the experience she would acquire at Infosys”.

In one of the four complaints she has filed against Murthy and Infosys, Maximovitch alleges: “The defendants caused the plaintiff to be subjected to verbal sexual harassment, to unwanted sexual advances, and to visual sexual harassment. Said sexual harassment and sexual advances were unwelcome. The defendants failed to take reasonable steps to keep harassment from occurring and recurring.... The acts of the defendants were done willfully and knowingly, and the plaintiff is entitled to recover punitive and exemplary damages thereof.”

She claims to have obtained two orders restraining Murthy between January and June 2001, but alleges that he violated at least one of them. Maximovitch ceased to be an employee of Infosys over a year ago.

Her complaint about ending her employment says: “The defendants’ treatment of the plaintiff constitutes violations of the California Fair Employment and Housing Act and also wrongful termination in contravention of the stated public policy of the State of California which protects employees from discrimination based on sex. Defendants’ discharge of plaintiff violated this public policy.”

Her complaint continues: “Defendant Murthy engaged in a pattern of conduct the intent of which was to follow, alarm or harass plaintiff. As a result of said pattern of conduct, plaintiff was severely emotionally distressed and reasonably feared for her safety and for the safety of immediate family members and for the safety of her boyfriend who resided in her home.”

Accusing Murthy of intentionally causing her emotional distress, Maximovitch petitioned the court: “Defendant Murthy, by doing the acts herein alleged, subjected plaintiff to outrageous conduct which was reasonably likely to and did cause severe emotional distress to plaintiff. Plaintiff has suffered general and special damages as a result of the conduct alleged herein.”

There is no word about the extent of damages sought by Maximovitch from her alleged sexual predator. But going by precedent, even an out-of-court settlement could run into millions of dollars, especially as Murthy is said to be the highest paid Infosys executive.

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