What is Quid Pro Quo Harassment?
The Latin term quid pro quo translates to "something for something."
Therefore, quid pro quo harassment occurs in the workplace when a manager or other authority figure offers or merely hints that he or she will give the employee something (a raise or a promotion) in return for that employee's satisfaction of a sexual demand. This also occurs when a manager or other authority figure says he or she 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 the acceptance or rejection of sexual advances.
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 advances in order to get hired.
This article focuses on quid pro quo sexual harassment in the workplace. See our Sexual Harassment section for more related articles and resources. Managers and business owners should review Sexual Harassment - What is It? and Preventing Sexual Harassment in our Small Business Law section.
Elements of a Quid Pro Quo Harassment Claim
In order to claim sexual harassment of the quid pro quo variety, a claimant (the plaintiff in a lawsuit) must be able to prove the following elements to a jury:
- 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, made unwanted sexual advance to the plaintiff, or engaged in other unwanted verbal or physical conduct of a sexual nature.
- Certain job benefits were conditioned, by words or conduct, on the plaintiff's acceptance of the alleged harasser's sexual advances or conduct; or that employment decisions affecting the plaintiff were made based on his or her acceptance or rejection of the alleged conduct.
- At the time of the alleged conduct, the alleged harasser was a supervisor or agent for company X.
- The plaintiff was harmed by the alleged conduct.
- The alleged harasser's conduct was a substantial factor in causing the plaintiff's harm.
From a practical standpoint, courts are looking for proof that the underlying sexual harassment resulted in a significant employment action, such as the plaintiff being fired or suspiciously passed over for a promotion. The employee may still file a claim even if he or she ultimately submits to the employer's inappropriate requests.
A plaintiff may recover compensatory damages for lost wages, lost benefits, or even lost employment opportunities; claim damages for emotional distress in certain cases; and get their job back. Punitive damages also may be awarded for particularly egregious violations, as a way of discouraging the defendant from engaging in or allowing sexual harassment in the future, but punitive damages are not commonly awarded.
Employees seeking justice for a quid pro quo harassment claim typically must file a complaint with a state and/or federal labor protection agency first (claimants have 180 days in which to file with the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission).
Speak with a sexual harassment lawyer in your area if you need further assistance.