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A twist to the tale

Bharat Kumar

Detective novels tell you why timing is vital to the plot. The case involving Phaneesh Murthy of Infosys is getting more and more curious on the time element.

The crown falls", screamed sports headlines in a major newspaper, when India, hot favourites to win the 1987 World Cup after their 1983 surprise, lost to England in the semi finals. Today, it's easy for cheerleaders for Infosys to feel that way, in the light of Phaneesh Murthy's resignation as worldwide chief of marketing to "successfully defend" a suit against him for sexual harassment. In 21 years since its inception, this is probably the first piece of negative news about Infosys.

N.R. Narayana Murthy, Infosys' chief mentor and chairman, is reported to have once said that Infosys was "started by a group of South Indian Brahmins" emphasising the values that the company stood for. Today, the same company is slapped with unwelcome suits — for "wrongful termination of employment" and another citing sexual harassment by one of its premier (now former) employees.

Due to paucity of information flowing from the company, a few questions remain unanswered. Why is Infosys, said to be foremost in transparency among Indian companies, not willing to reveal a few key pieces of information? A Rediff.com article quotes an investor relations spokesperson as saying that the suit was slapped "a month ago". Then why was a disclosure not forthcoming earlier on? And, why was there a delay between the termination of employment and the actual filing of the suit? Significantly, Infosys' first quarter results for the year were out on July 10.

Interestingly, an article in the latest issue of India Today, states that Phaneesh Murthy's former executive assistant, a Bulgarian by name Reka Maximovitch, filed the suit in the Alameda County Superior Court in Oakland, US, on December 17, 2001. If the suit was indeed filed some eight months ago, then why did Phaneesh Murthy announce his resignation — to ostensibly prepare to defend the suit — in July 2002? His sudden resignation not only meant a temporary void in the marketing function but for Progeon, Infosys' BPO subsidiary as well. (Infosys had announced plans for Progeon with Phaneesh Murthy as its chairman in April 2002). If both Phaneesh Murthy and the Infosys management were in the know of the suit, why did it appoint Phaneesh Murthy as head of Progeon, in addition to his existing responsibilities?

Queried on the delay between the slapping of the suit and the announcement, the spokesperson is quoted in the article as saying "We cannot be rushed. We looked at various things, and Phaneesh decided to resign", it says.

And "This case did not come before the grievance council of Infosys. And, the person who filed the case did not communicate this to any higher-up in any fashion. We will have to find out, from the detailed investigation that we will do, why he/she did not use the grievance redressal procedure."

bharatk@thehindu.co.in

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