Order Terminating Contractual Ad-hoc Assistant Professor for Availing Maternity Leave Quashed
1st May 2020, the Division Bench of the Delhi High Court in Manisha Priyadarshini vs Aurobindo College – Evening & Ors. (LPA no. 595 of 2019) quashed the termination order dated 29th May 2019 issued by the respondent, Aurobindo College terminating the appointment of the appellant for not reporting to duty from 21st January 2019 to 18th March 2019 on account of her pregnancy. Moreover, the respondent college was directed to appoint the appellant as an Ad-hoc Assistant Professor in the English Department.
The appellant, Manisha Priyadarshini had been working as an Ad-hoc Assistant Professor at the respondent college for five years from 20th August 2014. The contractual appointment of ad-hoc professors posted at colleges affiliated with the University of Delhi was renewed every 120 days and accordingly, the appointment of the appellant was renewed from 19th November 2018 to 18th March 2019 (I.e. for 120 days).
Grant of Maternity Leave:
On account of her first pregnancy, the appellant requested the respondent college to grant maternity leave from 14th January 2019 to 24th May 2019 and other benefits under the Maternity Benefit Act, 1961. Thereafter, on receiving no response for the same, she made another request. Her request was rejected on the ground that contractual employees are not eligible for maternity leave as per rules of the Delhi University.
Aggrieved, she filed a writ petition before the Delhi High Court seeking a grant of maternity leave, which is still pending.
In May 2019, when she reported for duty, she was informed that since she did not report to duty from 21st January 2019 to 18th March 2019, her contract was terminated by “efflux of time” and a termination order dated 29th May 2019 was issued by the respondent college.
The appellant filed a writ petition before the Single Judge Bench of the Delhi High Court challenging the termination order which was dismissed. Then, the appellant filed a Letters Patent Appeal (LPA) before the Division Bench of the Delhi High Court.
The Division Bench of Justice Hima Kohli and Justice Asha Menon observed:
“The only reason that stares in the face is the fact that knowing that she was an ad-hoc teacher, the appellant/petitioner had applied for maternity leave…. we decline to accept that as a legitimate ground for denying extension of tenure to the appellant/petitioner. Such a justification offered by the respondents for declining to grant an extension to the appellant/petitioner as she had highlighted her need for leave due to her pregnancy and confinement would tantamount to penalizing a woman for electing to become a mother while still employed and thus pushing her into a choiceless situation as motherhood would be equated with loss of employment.”
Further, the court relied on the following extract from the Supreme Court judgment in Shrilekha Vidyarthi (Kumari) v. State of U.P:
“…the personality of the State, requiring regulation of its conduct in all spheres by requirements of Article 14, does not undergo such a radical change after the making of a contract merely because some contractual rights accrue to the other party in addition. It is not as if the requirements of Article 14 and contractual obligations are alien concepts, which cannot co-exist.”
In conclusion, the Delhi High Court set aside the order of the Single Judge Bench dated 20th August 2019, quashed the termination order dated 29th May 2019 issued by the respondent college and directed the respondent college to appoint the appellant to the post of Assistant Professor in the English Department on an ad-hoc basis. Such appointment would continue till the vacant posts are filled up through regular appointment. Further, cost of Rs. 50,000 was imposed on the respondent college, payable within 4 weeks.
Aggrieved by the decision of the Delhi High Court, the respondent filed an SLP (Special Leave Petition) before the Supreme Court which was dismissed by a division bench of Justice D Y Chandrachud and Justice Indira Banerjee.
Ankitha Subramanya | EduLegaL