High Court upholds “bonafide” termination of employment by a Superior Officer

Delhi High Court: Observing the allegations of unreasonable termination and colourable exercise of power against the respondent employer, a Division Bench comprising Bhat J. and Sharma JJ. dismissed the appeal concluding that the actions of the respondent were bonafide, objective and supported by reason.

The appellant is a woman appointed as a photographer by the Press Trust of India. Noting that the quality of her work had not improved over time, her Superior Officer – the Chief Photographer – extended her probation period twice expressing his dissatisfaction with her performance, and ultimately terminated her employment for the reason of non-improvement of performance. Aggrieved by the termination, the appellant approached the Industrial Tribunal, which ruled in her favour and directed the respondents to reinstate her. In appeal furthered by the respondents, the matter came up before a Single Bench of the Delhi High Court, where the order of the Tribunal was overturned and the termination was ruled as reasoned and valid in light of the evidence furnished by the respondents. Later, through a letter patent appeal filed by the appellant, the matter was placed before a Division Bench of the same court, where the appellant represented by J.P. Sengh argued that the respondent had acted with illegitimate motivation and has colourably exercised his powers to terminate her employment. However, the respondents rebutted citing the multiple opportunities of improvement extended to the appellant and also recalled incidents impugning her for inappropriate conduct.

On the performance review released by the respondent expressing dissatisfaction with the appellant’s work, the Court observed that a superior officer is expected to do his job and not sugar coat his prose looking behind his back, writing insipidly about the performance of his junior officers. Further affirming the respondents’ stand, Court averred that the observations of the respondent were not to be taken as indicative of misconduct, but as an expression of opinion about the work performed by the employee. Ruling on the point of probation period, Court further observed that no probationer has a right to his post, but his removal shall happen only in the case of his proven unsuitability for the position. [Saraswati v. Press Trust of India,  2016 SCC OnLine Del 929, decided on 17/02/2016]

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