Supreme Court reverses lower courts judgments and upholds dismissal of 7 Taktse Lecturers

In a major land mark decision, the Supreme Court reversed the judgments of the High Court and the Trongsa District Court in the Taktse wrongful termination civil suit case by upholding the decision of Taktse College to terminate the 7 lecturers over sexual harassment complaints brought forward by female students.

The Supreme Court said that as per the evidence, documents and circumstantial evidence the court could determine that the lecturers violated the general teachers code of conduct. The court also said that prima facie sexual harassment had also been established.

The Supreme Court said it took this preventive decision as upholding the decisions of the High Court and District Court would set a bad precedent.

It said to prevent sexual harassment in educational institutions, colleges and schools the seven lecturers are not be reinstated.

However, the court issued a reprimand to the college for not handing over the case to the police directly and forming its own committees to look into it as sexual harassment is a penal offence.

Case background

The case first came to light on 5 May 2019 when some students approached the College President Lungtaen Gyatso with rumors of illicit relationship between students and lecturers in the college.

The President then organized two rounds of surveys on if there are any illicit relationships in the college. Majority of the students claimed that there are illicit relationships in the college. Thereby they started investigating the case further.

While their investigation could not conclusively establish illicit relationships as nobody came forward. However, they got enough evidences of sexual harassment that is directly in contravention of the teacher’s code of conduct.

19 girls had come forward and lodged complaints against 9 lecturers and one supporting staff. The sexual harassment was inappropriate body touching, sending of unethical messages in social media (WeChat) and some even inviting the victims into an illicit relationship.

This is in the context of the huge power that the lecturers had over the academic future of these students.

The Disciplinary Committee based on its investigation compulsorily retired the 10 of them on 10th May 2019.

On 16th May the case was forwarded to Trongsa RBP. On 17th May a second order by the President to the 10 of them terminated them but with payment till 10th May.

On 24th June 2019 the Trongsa RBP submitted a report to RBP HQ which sent an investigation team and found that only 4 out the 10 can be prosecuted and with another two lecturers who were not in the original list bringing the number to 6.

The crime branch forwarded the case to OAG for prosecution. OAG reviewed the report and found only 3 out of the 6 could be prosecuted.

The RBP were asked to prosecute the 3 as per directions of the OAG as a criminal case

Seven of the terminated lecturers filed a case of wrongful termination civil suit which was later joined by the 3 others.

In the criminal case the Trongsa court found the three lecturers guilty and convicted them for petty misdemeanor with 3 to 9 months sentencing and were ordered to pay compensation of Nu 11,250 to each student. They did not appeal.

In the civil case of wrongful termination, the Trongsa court ruled that the termination of the seven lecturers were not as per their rights in the constitution and the college had not followed procedures of HR rules and regulations of the RUB.

The court asked for the seven lecturers to be reinstated and it said the benefits of all 10 are to be paid 31st December 2021 which is the day of judgment. The court, however, said the sexual harassment allegations can be investigated by the police once they are reinstated.

The Taktse college and RUB appealed to the High Court. The High Court not only upheld the decision of the District court but it also said that though one of them has reached super annuation and three had completed their contract the college must still reinstate them.

Taktse College and RUB then appealed to the Supreme Court on the grounds that they did not abuse power by not following due process, but it was necessitated by the dire situation and so immediate action had to be taken.

The Supreme Court judgment is on a civil case so it cannot pass judgment in the criminal aspect even though it says there is prima facie a case of sexual harassment.

The Supreme Court judgment not only sets a new benchmark on sexual harassment cases, but it also raises the question on if the dropped cases of the RBP and the OAG could have also been prosecuted.

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