What does the H in HR stand for?

Harassment? Hush-up? Or Human, after all? CargoForwarder Global (CFG) rarely discusses personnel decisions made by airlines, airports or forwarding agents. Instead, CFG focuses on reporting factual issues and, in the case of management decisions, on the consequences they may have for a company.
However, in this particular case, CFG makes an exception. Not least, because we also want to send out a stop signal to attempts at intimidation, as this would otherwise be the end of critical journalism.

Stanislas Brun, source: Etihad

This case involves many actors. The most important of which are: AirFrance-KLM-Martinair, its former Indian employee, Ruchika Singh Chhabra; the former AF-KLM-MP Executive, Stanislas Brun, who is meanwhile VP Cargo at Etihad; the press department of Etihad Cargo, and lawyer, Francesco Fiorilli from the Dubai law firm, HFW.

The case
In 2013, Ruchika Singh Chhabra, a former commercial assistant of Air France-KLM-Martinair, had alleged being harassed by Stanislas Brun on multiple occasions, citing several incidents supporting her averment that she was subjected to repeated sexual advances in spite of her constant rejection of his – as she holds – unambiguous intentions. French national, Mr. Brun was at the time Marketing Manager at Air France-KLM Cargo & Martinair Cargo for India, Nepal, and Bhutan.

Revoke or get fired
Following an internal investigation, which resulted in a blank cheque for Brun’s conduct, Ms. Chhabra’s allegations were denied by the airline which threatened her with dismissal and exclusion from future pension payments from the provident fund in case she would repeat her allegations.

But she persisted, and the case eventually ended up in the High Court in New Delhi. Finally, in 2018, the judges, S Ravindra Bhat and justice AK Chawla, ruled that the Internal Complaints Committee (ICC) constituted by Air France on the harassment complaints made by Ms. Chhabra and the (AF-KLM-MP) panel’s resultant proceedings were invalid, and set them aside. Air France was prompted to reconstitute the ICC in strict compliance with the legal requirements within 30 days and conduct the inquiry afresh. For instance, it is mandatory to conspicuously display at the workplace what the penal consequences are of indulging in acts that may constitute sexual harassments. The court found that Ms. Chhabra had been victimized by the carrier for complaining against sexual harassment and forced to resign on 23SEP17. According to the court, this made the victim the culprit. The High Court did not assess whether there was sexual harassment by Stanislas Brun, as repeatedly alleged by Ms. Chhabra. In its judgment, the High Court limited itself to the unacceptable composition of the ICC, which made an objective clarification of the allegations impossible.

Indian media reported extensively on the case. For example: the Hindustan Times on 30MAY18, HRKatha on 01JUN18 or LEXTECHSUITE, the Lawyer Service for India (file #16802-03, 2018). The outcome of the investigations by the newly constituted ICC has not been made public by either side. It is therefore unclear whether AF made any compensation payments to Ms. Chhabra or whether both sides had reached an agreement in another way. 

Against this background, CFG asked Etihad Airways if management was aware of the complaints raised by Ms. Chhabra and the Indian judiciary’s involvement in the case, prior to hiring Mr. Brun.

HFW lawyer plays hardball,
In addition, CFG confidentially sent Etihad Corporate Communication an excerpt of a letter it recently received from an anonymous source, asking Etihad for an official reaction. In the original letter considerable accusations are made against the management style of Mr. Brun.

However, instead of providing an answer to the question of whether Etihad management knew about the processes and legal proceedings in India prior to Mr. Brun’s appointment to VP Cargo on 21FEB24, Francesco Fiorilli from the Dubai law firm, Holman, Fenwick, Willan (HFW), issued CFG with this cease-and-desist declaration:

Our Client [i. e. EY Cargo] demands that you refrain from publishing any article containing the above referenced allegations (or any similar allegations)*. If you fail to comply with such request, our client has instructed us to issue proceedings against you (without further notice to you) seeking any appropriate relief, including an injunction restraining further publication, damages and legal costs.”

* “the article is understood to contain serious allegations against Etihad Airways and one of its employees, Mr. Stanislas Brun.”

… but should fasten his seat belt
Which ‘serious allegations’ he refers to, Mr. Fiorilli does not specify. This does not surprise us since CFG made no allegations. It simply posed questions to the Etihad management.

CFG’s response to Mr. Fiorilli and his law firm, is this:

If a person living in the EU is targeted by a SLAPP** case in a third country, [such as the Emirates], EU member states must refuse the recognition and enforcement of this third-county judgement if it is considered manifestly unfounded or abusive. In order to discourage abusive legal actions, the [EU] judge can also decide to subject the party who initiated the SLAPP case to penalties or other equally effective measures.”

Quote: Council of the EU, 19MAR24

** SLAPP – Strategic Lawsuits against public participation, aimed at intimidating and threatening journalists and human right defenders.

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