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Phaneesh Murthy faces sex lawsuit again

Fakir Chand in Bangalore | October 05, 2003 22:24 IST

Infosys Technologies Ltd, the Bangalore-based global Information Technology major, is again faced with a sex lawsuit involving its former director Phaneesh Murthy.

Jennifer Griffith, who was employed with Infosys in the US when Phaneesh was still with the company, is slapping the latest case.

In a terse statement to the media, Infosys disclosed the lawsuit had been filed in the Superior Court of California, Alameda County, alleging that Phaneesh sexually harassed Griffith while she was working with him in the company's US office.

"Thought the lawsuit has not yet been served on the company, we are reviewing the complainant's allegations. The case, however, will not have any material impact either on our operations or the financial results of the company," the statement added.

Griffith, an American national, is learnt to have left Infosys a few weeks after Phaneesh resigned in July 2002, when a similar sex lawsuit was filed against him and Infosys by his former executive secretary Rekha Maxmovitch, a US citizen of Bulgarian origin.

Meanwhile, Phaneesh, who is now with the US-based iGate Global Solutions as its CEO, termed the allegations as baseless and a blatant example of taking advantage of the public news of a prior settlement in a similar lawsuit.

In a statement from Fremont, iGate said it had come to know about the sex lawsuit though it was not yet served on Phaneesh.

Phaneesh spokesperson told rediff.com the lawsuit was filed in the court on October 3.

Commenting on the development, iGate chairman Sunil Wadhwani said Phaneesh had made the company aware of the possibility of this development.

"We have done our due diligence and believe the allegations to be without foundation.  We have complete confidence in Phaneesh," he added.

Murthy said he was appalled and outraged by the baseless allegations made against him again.

In a conference call from his house at Fremont in California, Murthy told rediff.com that he would fight the 'hell out of it' as the American national was solely motivated by greed to make money in collusion with lawyers who specialise in such lawsuits.

"This is completely rubbish. I'm determined to fight the case. Else I will be vulnerable for anyone to take a potshot at me. My wife (Jaya) and I will talk it out, and if necessary, we will take out our retirement funds to fight the case to the finish," Murthy said.

The lawyers who filed the latest lawsuit are the same who reached a $3-million out-of-court settlement with Infosys in the earlier case involving Rekha Maxmovitch (former executive to Phaneesh).

"Their sole intention in slapping a similar case against me is to rake more money, which has become their main business," Murthy said.

Admitting that he knew about Jennifer in mid-2001 when he was heading Infosys' worldwide sales and marketing division, Murthy said she did not report to him directly. During the first half of her assignment, she used to report to the sales manager and then to the head of the marketing.

"When Jennifer was given bad rating by her regional manager, she took some writing job for me. However, her reaction to the bad rating was that she was not used to her strength. She used to take my dictations from me on a paper on the financial services industry for a period of 4-6 weeks during September-October 2001," Murthy said.

Accusing Jennifer's lawyers of deliberate attempt to malign him, Murthy said the way they approached him with Jennifer's accusations only exposed their designs to make money out of the lawsuit as in the previous case.

"I see a pattern emerging in the way they went about filing the lawsuit in the court (Alameda County Court in California). First, they approached me to settle the complaint Jennifer had filed last September when the earlier million-dollar case came up for hearing.

Secondly, they made their intentions to file the lawsuit soon after Infosys reached an out-of-court settlement with Maxmovitch in April-May, 2003. And now within a month after I have taken over as CEO of iGate, they went ahead and filed the lawsuit. This is just to harass me and blackmail me to pay out," Murthy said.

Asked when the latest case was filed in the county court, Murthy said it was on September 30. "I haven't got a copy of the lawsuit as my lawyers have not yet been served one," he added.

As per the US laws, Jennifer had approached the Department of Fair Employment and sought the right to sue letter. Once she got the permission to deal with the case, she wanted to know whether she could be compensated for Murthy's conduct, failing which she would sue him.

Not receiving any response from Murthy, Jennifer has filed the lawsuit through her lawyers on September 30.

Terming the incident as false, Murthy said he would not let this incident affect his current responsibilities as the CEO of iGate Global Solutions, a subsidiary of the US-based iGate Corporation.

"Last time, I was caught like a deer with a headlight on it. I was little cautions and played it up like a lamb, as I was completely unaware of how to go about it. This time I will not allow it go that way," Murthy said.

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