Senior public health expert sues LUMS on grounds of manifold gross negligence in handling her harassment complaints Lahore: A suit for damages to the tune of 67 million rupees was filed by Barrister Jannat Ali Kalyar, on behalf of Dr. Samia Altaf against the Lahore University of Management Sciences (LUMS), it’s Vice Chancellor, Provost, Human Resource Department, and five others.
Prior to filing the damages claim, Dr. Samia Altaf filed a suit for permanent injunction and successfully secured an interim order restraining LUMS from using her name illegally on its official website even two months after the non-extension of her contract.
According to the plaint, the non-renewal of her contract was an act of reprisal for reporting two specific incidents of sexist hostility and harassment against a male colleague (hereinafter as the “accused”). She also claimed that these incidents were the culmination of aggressive, discriminating, and misogynistic behavior displayed by the accused in almost every encounter she had with him in the almost eight weeks leading to these incidents. Dr. Samia Altaf is a columnist, published author, physician , and leading public health specialist who is deeply committed to promoting and strengthening public health in Pakistan.
She has been on the faculty at Aga Khan University Medical College; served as a primary health care program officer for UNICEF and consulted for international aid agencies including the Office of Health in the USAID Mission in Islamabad and Department of Health, Washington DC, USA. Considering her wealth of experience and outstanding career as an international public health specialist, she was employed by the University on 17/08/2020 as Professor of Practice in Public Health/Director Campus Health and Safety. Both Dr. Samia and the accused were members of the LUMS Health and Safety Committee, consisting of other members including the Provost.
However, Dr. Samia was the only expert on public health on the committee. She submitted that her harassment complaint should have been adjudicated as per the LUMS Sexual Harassment Policy that also includes “non-sexual” harassment as a valid manifestation of harassment, also prohibited by the HEC’s Sexual Harassment Policy. However, she was initially directed to the wrong forum – an ad hoc HR Grievance Committee – by the Provost.
The Grievance Committee held that the accused’s behaviour towards her was in fact hostile and identified the need for gender sensitisation training on campus, among other recommendations.
But no specific recommendation was made against the accused to hold him accountable for his untoward behaviour. Dr. Samia thereupon filed a fresh complaint before the LUMS Sexual Harassment Committee which initially passed a “no-contact order” between the two parties but it was violated by the accused and the senior management. Subsequently, Dr. Samia was excluded from the Health and Safety Committee and her input was not sought in any of the policies or decisions made therein.
However, her attendance was still marked and her name attributed to the policies or decisions made by the committee, in her absence. Other than the Health and Safety Committee, she has also sued the Sexual Harassment Committee for mishandling her complaint, without regard to timeliness and transparency, required of such an issue and the Office of Accessibility and Inclusion who failed to provide support and timely guidance to her, in violation of its core responsibility. She stated that she was so mentally disturbed after the incidents that she had to take the week off.
Throughout the remaining course of her employment, she felt jittery and anxious when she was invited to meetings at LUMS, fearing the accused may be at that meeting. She was also denied counseling facility by the Head of Counselling and Psychological Services.
She still feels terribly demoralized and traumatized and has found it very difficult to work which has negatively affected her professional life, home life, and family. She stated that instead of holding the accused accountable for harassing her, she was made to suffer and punished – by marginalization, isolation, the negation of her work, and loss of employment.
Her professional standing and work performance was adversely affected and her dignity was violated.
As a last resort, she wrote to the LUMS Managing Committee, Higher Education Department Punjab, Ministry of Federal Education and Professional Training, Women Development Department Punjab, Punjab Commission on the Status of Women, National Commission on the Status of Women, Human Rights, and Minorities Affairs Department Punjab, Ministry of Human Rights but to no avail.