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What Is Quid Pro Quo Harassment?

The Latin phrase quid pro quo translates to "something for something." Quid pro quo is also a form of sexual harassment that occurs in the workplace. It happens when a manager or individual in a position of power offers or merely hints that they will give the employee job benefits in return for that employee's satisfaction with a sexual demand. It may include a raise, promotion, or another benefit.

Workplace sexual harassment remains a problem in our nation's workplaces. Harassment complaints are more pervasive in certain industries. Review FindLaw's Sexual Harassment section for more related articles and resources on the different types of sexual harassment. Managers and business owners should review Sexual Harassment - What is It? and Preventing Sexual Harassment in our Small Business Law section.

This article focuses on quid pro quo sexual harassment in the workplace.

Quid Pro Quo Harassment Claims

To claim sexual harassment based on quid pro quo, a claimant of quid (the plaintiff in a lawsuit) must be able to prove the following elements:

  • The plaintiff was an employee of or applied for a job with company X (the defendant)
  • The alleged harasser, an officer or employee of company X, either made unwelcome sexual advances to the plaintiff or engaged in other unwanted verbal or physical conduct of a sexual nature
  • Certain employment benefits were conditioned, by words or conduct, on the plaintiff's acceptance of the alleged harasser's sexual advances or conduct, or employment decisions affecting the plaintiff were made based on their acceptance or rejection of the alleged conduct
  • At the time of the alleged conduct, the alleged harasser was a supervisor or agent of company X
  • The alleged conduct harmed the plaintiff
  • The alleged harasser's conduct was a substantial factor in causing the plaintiff's harm

From a practical standpoint, courts require proof that the underlying sexual harassment resulted in a significant employment action. This can include the plaintiff being fired or suspiciously passed over for a promotion.

The employee may still file a claim even if they submit to the employer's inappropriate requests. Sexual harassment lawyers can help you understand your legal options under the circumstances of your situation.

Examples of Quid Pro Quo Harassment Cases

A classic example of quid pro quo sexual harassment is when a supervisor, manager, or customer offers some kind of career or financial incentive in exchange for time or sexual favors.

A quid pro quo arrangement can also occur when a manager or other authority figure says they will not fire or reprimand an employee in exchange for some type of sexual favor. A job applicant also may be the subject of this kind of harassment. If the hiring decision was based on unwanted sexual advances, this is also a form of quid pro quo harassment. Accepting or rejecting such sexual advances can be the basis of a sexual harassment claim.

For instance, a male bank manager interviewing a female applicant for a job as a teller places his hand on her thigh. When she objects, he asks, "Don't you want this job?" The implication is that she must comply with the hiring manager's sexual advances as a condition of employment. Most quid pro quo sexual harassment claims are not this obvious, though.

Common Examples of Quid Pro Quo

Common examples of quid pro quo sexual harassment include:

  • A supervisor offers favors in return for your time or a sexual favor, such as an offer to accompany the supervisor to an industry event as a date
  • A supervisor asks an employee out to dinner, and the employee declines the offer. The supervisor subsequently freezes the employee out of work assignments and threatens demotion
  • A person in a position of power attaches unwritten requirements to promotions and raises

Harassment can warrant a claim for a hostile work environment. A company can be liable for hostile work environment harassment even if the supervisor fails to follow through on threats.

Legal Remedies

State and federal laws may provide for remedies for victims of sexual harassment. For example, Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 prohibits discrimination based on sex. Sexual conduct that constitutes sexual harassment or sexual assault in the workplace is a form of sex discrimination that violates Title VII.

In certain cases, a plaintiff may recover compensatory damages for the following:

  • Lost wages
  • Lost benefits
  • Lost employment opportunities
  • Claim damages for emotional distress

In some cases, an employee may be able to get their job back.

Punitive damages may also be awarded for particularly egregious violations to discourage the defendant from engaging in or allowing sexual harassment in the future. Punitive damages, however, are not commonly awarded.

Employees seeking justice for a quid pro quo harassment claim typically must file a complaint with a state or federal labor protection agency first. Claimants have 180 days in which to file a claim with the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC).

Need Legal Help With a Quid Pro Quo Harassment Claim?

Harassment cases can be complex and stressful. If you've been involved in a situation that may amount to harassment, an employment lawyer can help. They can analyze the facts of your situation and apply the relevant federal and state laws to help determine your next steps.

To learn more about employment discrimination or to obtain legal advice, contact a local employment law attorney today to learn how they can help.

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