Thursday 8 December 2016

'IT boss said I looked like a seductive dancer', businesswoman tells employment tribunal

Dominic Harris

Published 06/10/2015 | 18:58

Shreya Ukil outside Victory House in London, as a tribunal heard that the senior businesswoman was told by her IT firm boss that she looked like a
Shreya Ukil outside Victory House in London, as a tribunal heard that the senior businesswoman was told by her IT firm boss that she looked like a "seductive dancer from Indian mythology" who "had the curves of a Russian body and big breasts". Dominic Harris/PA Wire

A senior businesswoman was told by her IT firm boss that she looked like a "seductive dancer from Indian mythology" who "had the curves of a Russian body and big breasts", a tribunal was told.

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Shreya Ukil claimed she was pressurised into having a sexual relationship by Manoj Punja, a senior colleague at the IT and outsourcing firm Wipro, before being forced out and sacked after the company refused her resignation.

Ms Ukil, 40, from Kensington, west London, said she was "belittled", bullied, sexually hounded and harassed at the company, where she said there was a "deeply predatory, misogynistic culture".

Wipro, an IT partner of Chelsea football club and which has offices in London and Bangalore, India, fostered an atmosphere which "requires women to be subservient" Ms Ukil said.

Shreya Ukil outside Victory House in London, as a tribunal heard that the senior businesswoman was told by her IT firm boss that she looked like a
Shreya Ukil outside Victory House in London, as a tribunal heard that the senior businesswoman was told by her IT firm boss that she looked like a "seductive dancer from Indian mythology" who "had the curves of a Russian body and big breasts". Dominic Harris/PA Wire

In a witness statement to the Central London Employment Tribunal she said had suffered because she is "a woman, an Indian woman and one who submitted to the advances of a senior, powerful man in the company with friends at the top", and that she was singled out because she "dared to complain that she had been the victim of discrimination, intimidation and harassment".

Ms Ukil is bringing a case against Wipro for sex and race discrimination, victimisation, sexual harassment, unfair dismissal and wrongful dismissal.

Ms Ukil, a business development leader, began working at Wipro in Bangalore in 2005 before moving to the London office in June 2010 to work in the European sales team.

But there she found a sharp division between the sexes, with women paid far less than their male colleagues for the same roles.

Female colleagues felt they belonged to "an underclass, were underpaid" and called "emotional".

A sexist culture existed, she said, and she was blocked from going on a business trip to Las Vegas, where colleagues said they went to strip clubs and the global head of banking "misbehaved" with a Mexican dancer at an awards ceremony.

Ms Ukil said her boss, Viray Firake, bullied her and deliberately hampered her career progression, belittling her in meetings and calling her a "bag carrier" to undermine her.

In 2012, after she had moved divisions, she developed a friendship with Mr Punja, a chief executive at the company, but Ms Ukil said he eventually carried out an "aggressive, planned pursuit of her".

On a number of occasions he persuaded her to drink late with him after business meetings and invited her up to his hotel rooms.

On a trip abroad he told her she was a "distraction", and looked like a "seductive dancer ... who tested the celibacy of the great saints".

"He told me that the silk top I was wearing was too tight for my body shape as I had the curves of a Russian body and big breasts.

On subsequent meetings Mr Punja told her he was lonely and separated from his wife, and urged her to take his daughter under her wing and give her professional coaching.

Another time he turned up at her home and asked to stay, displaying behaviour which she said was "highly pressurising, odd and sexually advancing".

When she refused his sexual advances "he told me that I had insulted him like nobody had insulted him in a long time. He said that I was forgetting who I was talking to".

Ms Ukil said she ended up in a relationship with him because he was "utterly manipulative", that it was "a complete abuse of his power".

She ended up in hospital, seeing a psychiatrist and on medication, and filed a grievance procedure against the company.

She eventually resigned last year, but this was refused - only for her to be sacked a week later for gross misconduct, which Ms Ukil said was a "retaliatory response" by Wipro.

Ms Ukil said the company's culture required women to be "subservient", and that "women who are confident, capable and express their viewpoints are often called 'emotional', 'psychotic' or 'menopausal'."

Ms Ukil, who is represented at the tribunal by Slater and Gordon, added: "I believe the many detriments which I have suffered were because I am a woman, an Indian woman and one who had submitted to the advances of a senior, powerful man in the company with friends at the top, and finally, a woman who dared to complain that she had been the victim of discrimination, intimidation and harassment."

The tribunal is expected to last for 10 days.

Press Association

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