HC reinstates woman whose contract was terminated for seeking maternity leave

Court also imposes ₹25,000 cost to be recovered from officer who ordered termination

Lamenting the State government’s conduct of terminating a woman employed on contract basis merely because she sought maternity leave, the High Court of Karnataka has observed that “it would be power at wrong hands when men who man such offices become insensitive”.

The court imposed a cost of ₹25,000 on the government while quashing the order of termination and directing the authorities to reinstate her to the post with 50% back wages from the date of termination of contract. The court also directed the government to recover ₹25,000 cost from the officer who had passed order of termination.

Justice M. Nagaprasanna passed the order while allowing the petition by B.N. Rajeshwari, who was working as Project Information Officer/MIS Expert on contract basis with the Directorate of Municipal Administration in Bengaluru since 2009 with regular renewal of contract annually.

“The action of the DMA cannot be countenanced, as the Maternity Benefit B Act, 1967, does not classify or qualify a mother to be a government servant, temporary employee, employee on contract basis or an employee on daily wages,” the court held.

“… the pendulum of her fate swung from the buoyance of hope to the fatigue of despair as she is terminated on the score that she opted to become a mother and had sought maternity leave,” the court observed while describing the petitioner’s plea as “I chose motherhood; the State chose to terminate me.”

Her contract was terminated in August 2019 after she sought maternity leave, based on medical advice for complete bed rest, at the eighth month of her pregnancy in June-July 2019. When she remained absent from work after seeking maternity leave, the government issued notice cautioning her that the contract would be terminated if she failed to report to duty within two days. It was government’s contention that she was eligible only for one day’s leave per month as per the terms of the contract and no other leaves.

She gave birth to a child a month before the due date and gave representations in January 2020 to the authorities to take her back to duty but the authorities did not consider her plea. Ms. Rajeshwari’s another representation, submitted in August, 2020, quoting a judgement of the High Court on entitlement of maternity leave for employees on contract also fell on deaf ears of the authorities.

Narrating a 21-year-old judgement of the apex court that had ruled that maternity leave is not restricted only to regular employees, the court wondered how the authorities denied her the benefit even after she had enlightened them about law on maternity leave.

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