Request A Free Consultation
Sunset on a pier in Orange County

Quid Pro Quo Sexual Harassment

Quid pro quo sexual harassment is a pervasive issue that undermines the integrity and safety of the workplace. The term “quid pro quo,” derived from Latin, translates to “this for that,” indicating an exchange where job benefits or opportunities are contingent upon the recipient’s submission to unwelcome sexual advances or requests for sexual favors. This form of harassment is not only morally reprehensible but also illegal under both federal and state laws.

Quid Pro Quo Sexual Harassment

What Does ‘Quid Pro Quo’ Mean?

Quid pro quo sexual harassment occurs when an individual in a position of power, such as a supervisor or manager, demands sexual favors from an employee as a condition for employment benefits. The key element is the explicit or implicit exchange: granting or denying job benefits based on the employee’s response to the sexual advances.

Examples of Quid Pro Quo Sexual Harassment

  • Job Promotion Contingent on Sexual Favors:
    • A manager tells an employee that they will be promoted to a higher position only if they agree to go on a date or engage in a sexual relationship with the manager.
  • Hiring Decisions Influenced by Sexual Advances:
    • During an interview, a supervisor implies that the candidate will be hired only if they agree to meet the supervisor privately for non-professional reasons.
  • Threats of Retaliation for Refusal:
    • An employer threatens to demote, reduce the pay, or terminate an employee if they refuse to comply with the employer’s sexual requests.
  • Favorable Work Assignments for Compliance:
    • A supervisor gives more desirable assignments, better shifts, or lighter workloads to employees who submit to their sexual advances, while those who refuse receive less favorable treatment.
  • Denial of Benefits for Rejection:
    • An employee is denied a raise, bonus, or other employment benefit because they did not acquiesce to the sexual demands of a supervisor.
  • Training and Development Opportunities:
    • An employee is told they will only be allowed to attend a coveted professional development seminar if they agree to spend personal time with their supervisor.
  • Performance Evaluations Linked to Sexual Compliance:
    • A supervisor hints that an employee’s performance review will be positive and lead to a pay increase if the employee agrees to engage in a romantic or sexual relationship with them.
  • Job Retention Linked to Sexual Acts:
    • A temporary employee is told their contract will only be renewed if they agree to meet the supervisor’s sexual demands.
  • Use of Authority to Impose Sexual Conditions:
    • A supervisor uses their authority to make or break an employee’s career prospects, explicitly stating that compliance with sexual demands will result in career advancement.

How do Employees Prove Quid Pro Quo Harassment?

Here are the steps and types of evidence that employees can use to prove quid pro quo harassment:

Document the Incidents

Keep detailed records of every instance of harassment, including dates, times, locations, and the specific actions or comments made by the harasser. Note any witnesses who were present during these incidents.

Show Unwelcome Conduct

Clearly demonstrate that the sexual advances or requests for favors were unwelcome. This can be done by providing evidence of complaints made to supervisors, HR, or through other formal channels.

Demonstrate the Link to Employment Decisions

Provide evidence that job benefits (such as promotions, raises, or favorable assignments) were explicitly or implicitly conditioned on the acceptance of sexual advances. Conversely, show that negative employment actions (such as demotions, pay cuts, or terminations) resulted from rejecting such advances.

Types of Evidence 

  • Direct Evidence: Written communications such as emails, text messages, letters, audio or video recordings capturing the harasser’s propositions or threats.
  • Testimonies
    • Witness statements from colleagues or others who were present during the incidents or who heard the harasser make such propositions. 
    • Testimonies from other employees who may have experienced similar harassment from the same individual.
  • Performance and Employment Records
    • Documentation showing a pattern of positive performance reviews and satisfactory job performance prior to the harassment. 
    • Records of any sudden negative employment actions (such as poor performance reviews, demotions, or terminations) following the rejection of sexual advances.
  • Company Policies and Procedures:
    • Evidence that the company has a policy against sexual harassment and that the harasser’s actions violated these policies.
    • Proof that the employee followed the company’s reporting procedures for harassment.
  • Comparative Evidence
    • Evidence showing that employees who complied with the harasser’s demands received more favorable treatment than those who did not.
    • Comparisons between the treatment of the complainant and other similarly situated employees who did not experience harassment.

Are Threats Enough to Prove Quid Pro Quo?

Threats can be sufficient to prove quid pro quo sexual harassment if they clearly link job benefits or penalties to the acceptance or rejection of sexual advances. To establish a case, the threats must directly connect employment decisions to the individual’s response to the harassment. For example: 

Explicit Threats

If a supervisor or person in authority directly threatens an employee with negative consequences for refusing sexual advances, this is clear evidence of quid pro quo harassment.

  • Example: A boss says, “If you don’t go out with me, I will make sure you get fired.”

Implicit Threats

Even if threats are not directly stated, implying negative consequences can be sufficient.

  • Example: A manager hints, “Your promotion might depend on how well you get along with me outside of work.”

Documentation of these threats is crucial, whether they are written (such as emails or text messages) or verbal, in which case contemporaneous notes or recordings (where legally permissible) can serve as evidence. 

Steps to Take If You Experience Quid Pro Quo

Report the Harassment

Follow your company’s procedures for reporting sexual harassment. This is often a critical step in documenting that the advances were unwelcome and that you sought to address the issue through proper channels.

Seek Legal Advice

Consult a trusted Orange County Sexual Harassment Attorney. A lawyer can help you gather evidence, build a strong case, and navigate the legal process.

File a Complaint with Relevant Agencies

File a complaint with the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) or your state’s equivalent agency. In California, this would be the Civil Rights Department (CRD).

Quid pro quo sexual harassment creates a toxic work environment and can lead to severe emotional and psychological distress, affecting your job performance and overall well-being. Addressing and preventing this form of harassment is crucial for maintaining a safe, respectful, and productive workplace.