What is Quid Pro Quo Sexual Harassment?

Posted by Sessions & Kimball |

Quid pro quo is a Latin phrase that means “this for that.” In the workplace, quid pro quo sexual harassment occurs when a supervisor offers an employee some type of work-related benefit that is contingent upon the exchange of sexual favors. This type of harassment is specifically forbidden under California statutes, and supervisors who engage in this sort of seedy activity can be held accountable under civil law. 

As an example, if an employee’s boss asks the employee to engage in sexual activity with them and promises the employee a pay raise in return, this is blatant quid pro quo sexual harassment. In another instance, a supervisor may threaten the employee with termination of employment if the employee fails to yield to the supervisor’s sexual demands. Both are considered quid pro quo sexual harassment and are actionable in civil court. 

Cases involving quid pro quo sexual harassment may also include other elements of sexual harassment, such as making comments about an employee’s body or what they would like to do to the employee sexually or discussing sexual acts in the presence of the employee.

Quid pro quo sexual harassment is a serious matter, especially if the employee has tangible proof to corroborate their accusation. For instance, proof might be in the form of a demotion that resulted from the employee’s refusal to submit to the sexual demands of the supervisor. Quid pro quo sexual harassment may be obvious and outright, or it can be subtle and implied. Just a hint of impropriety related to “this for that” harassment can be grounds enough for a civil case in some situations. 

It is important to note that retaliating against an employee who has alleged a quid pro quo sexual harassment violation is also forbidden by law. Employers are prohibited from actions such as reducing the employee’s hours, for instance, punishing the employee for speaking out. 

Quid Quo Pro in the News

A recent case in New York underscores how seriously the courts view quid pro quo sexual harassment. The case involved a construction company that subjected employees, especially women of color, to what reports refer to as “severe” sexual harassment and retaliation when the women failed to yield to the sexual demands of upper management. The women had been offered benefits such as overtime opportunities and pay bumps. A total of 18 employees settled with the company to the tune of $1.5 million.

Hostile Work Environment

It is often the case that a hostile work environment results from either the refusal of an employee to submit to the sexual desires of a supervisor or the employee speaking out against the supervisor for unwanted sexual advances or innuendo. The courts frown markedly on supervisors who create a hostile work environment in retaliation against an employee who is or has been harassed in a sexual manner. 

Quid pro quo sexual harassment can happen even in the upper echelons of society. Allegations by a New York State Trooper against former Governor Andrew Cuomo recently shocked the public. The trooper worked as part of Cuomo’s security detail and accuses the former politician of inappropriately touching her while she was working within his close proximity. 

Cuomo isn’t alone in his sexual harassment troubles by any means, though. A sexual harassment probe by Activision Blizzard Inc.—the maker of the popular Call of Duty video game franchise, was recently exposed in the news. Ultimately, the company fired dozens of people and reprimanded dozens more due to sexual harassment allegations. 

Taking Action Against Sexual Harassment

Have you been a victim of quid pro quo harassment? If so, don’t stay silent any longer. Reach out for help from our Orange County sexual harassment attorney at Sessions & Kimball. You can give us a call or make an appointment online to schedule your free consultation.