Denying job extension to pregnant woman amounts to penalising for embracing motherhood: HC

New Delhi, May 8 (PTI) Denying job extension to a pregnant woman amounts to penalising her for embracing motherhood, observed the Delhi High Court which quashed the decision of a Delhi University college to terminate the ad-hoc appointment of assistant professor, who requested grant of maternity leave with other benefits.

A bench of Justices Hima Kohli and Asha Menon set aside the order of a single judge which had dismissed the woman's plea against Aurobindo College (Evening), where she had been working for five years.

The high court allowed the appeal of the woman who was employed on ad-hoc basis as the assistant professor in the English Department and imposed a cost of Rs 50,000 on the college, to be paid to the teacher within four weeks.

It also directed the authorities to forthwith appoint the woman to the post of assistant professor in the English Department on an ad-hoc basis till the vacant posts are filled up through regular appointment.

The appointment letter shall be sent by email by the authorities within one week and the woman shall report for duty immediately on the lockdown being eased or lifted or through e-mail, it said.

The high court also said that an act of an administrative authority has to be pervaded by fairness and can never smack of arbitrariness or whimsicality.

The counsel for DU and the college submitted that ad-hoc teachers were not entitled to maternity leave as the rules do not provide for it and there is no vested right in them to claim extension of tenure.

The bench, without commenting on the rule position regarding her entitlement to maternity leave, which is the subject matter of a pending writ petition, declined to accept it as a legitimate ground for denying extension of tenure to the woman.

“Such a justification offered by the respondents (college and university) for declining to grant an extension to the appellant/petitioner (woman) as she had highlighted her need for leave due to her pregnancy and confinement would tantamount to penalising a woman for electing to become a mother while still employed and thus pushing her into a choice less situation as motherhood would be equated with loss of employment.

“This is violative of the basic principle of equality in the eyes of law. It would also tantamount to depriving her of the protection assured under Article 21 of the Constitution of her right to employment and protection of her reproductive rights as a woman. Such a consequence is therefore absolutely unacceptable and goes against the very grain of the equality principles enshrined in Articles 14 and 16,” the high court said.

It noted that the woman was working in the college for five years and was granted repeated extensions with a break in service, as found necessary by the authorities, to maintain her appointment as ad-hoc in nature.

The court also noted that there has been no complaint regarding her work performance and her proficiency and ability did not form the basis of the authorities' decision to decline extension of her services despite the necessity which is reflected from the fact that they are continuing with the other ad-hoc assistant professors in the English Department and also guest lecturers.

The woman, in her plea, said she was expecting her first child in February last year and had in January requested the authorities for maternity leave from January 14, 2019 to May 24, 2019, and other eligible benefits under the Maternity Benefit Act.

Despite various requests, she did not receive any response from them and on February 3, 2019, she was blessed with a premature child, the plea said, adding that she was given only 18 days salary after which she approached the court. PTI SKV HMP RKS RKS RKS