Thinley Namgay    

The Supreme Court  (SC) recently overturned lower courts’ decision and upheld the decision of the College of Language and Culture Studies (CLCS) to not reinstate the seven lecturers involved in the sexual harassment of female students.

The SC judgment stated that reinstating the lecturers would set a bad precedent since their conduct had violated the Teachers’ Code of Conduct.  “It is also to prevent sexual harassment in educational institutions.”

SC reprimanded CLCS management and the Office of the Vice Chancellor of the Royal University of Bhutan (RUB) for failing to follow due process while investigating the matter and ordered them to strictly adhere to relevant provisions in the future.

The SC mentioned that CLCS had compulsorily retired the 10 accused of sexual harassment without first informing the Police. “This is against the due process of law.”

A SC official said that the case was not a sexual harassment case per se. “It came to the court as a civil suit in the form of wrongful termination from work. It is a civil suit involving public institution as one of the parties.”

In May 2019, there were reports of inappropriate relationships between lecturers and students at CLCS, and 19 female students filed a sexual harassment complaint against nine lecturers and supporting staff.

CLCS formed a committee to investigate the matter, and seven lecturers were compulsorily retired, while the contracts of three others were terminated. The case was referred to the Trongsa police, which submitted an investigation report to police headquarter in Thimphu.

The police report stated sufficient evidence to prosecute four lecturers, out of which the Office of the Attorney General (OAG) found sufficient evidence to prosecute three.

The seven lecturers who were terminated filed a wrongful termination case against CLCS, and the other three facing criminal charges joined them.

The dzongkhag court found the three guilty of sexual harassment and sentenced them to prison terms ranging from three to nine months.  The court also ordered them to pay compensation to the three female students.

In the wrongful termination case, lower courts found that CLCS did not follow its Human Resource Rules and Regulations.  The courts ordered to reinstate seven lecturers and provide benefits to the three convicted lecturers.

Aggrieved by the lower court’s ruling to reinstate staff and pay their salaries in arrears, RUB and CLCS  appealed to the SC last year. RUB and CLCS appealed saying that they didn’t abuse their power and termination was necessary.