Quid pro quo harassment is a type of sexual harassment in the workplace recognized under Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964. It occurs when a supervisor or person of higher rank requires an employee to perform sexual favors in order to keep their job or receive some type of job benefit.

Quid pro quo sexual harassment includes not only direct verbal requests, but also non-verbal communication and physical conduct.

What is the Difference Between Quid Pro Quo and Hostile Work Environment Harassment?

Quid pro quo harassment can be distinguished from the other type of harassment recognized under Title VII, which is hostile work environment harassment.

Hostile work environment harassment does not have to involve a coworker of higher rank and refers to a situation where an employee feels uncomfortable in the workplace because a coworker engaged in sexual conduct which created an offensive atmosphere.

For quid pro quo harassment, a single incident is usually sufficient. However, a pattern of behavior is usually present for hostile work environment claims. Regardless, keep in mind that sexual harassment claims may sometimes involve both categories.

What are Some Examples of Quid Pro Quo Sexual Harassment?

A classic example of quid pro quo sexual harassment is a supervisor offering their subordinate employee a promotion in exchange performing a sexual favor.

However, quid pro quo harassment can also include situations where an employee of higher rank takes the following actions if an employee refuses to engage in sexual activity:

  • Withholding benefits;
  • Threatening termination or actually terminating the employee;
  • Making work project opportunities conditional upon completion of the sexual favor; and
  • Altering an evaluation based on the employee’s willingness to engage in sexual acts.

As you can see, quid pro quo harassment can also involve threats to employees in order to coerce them into performing a sexual favor.

In such cases, a supervisor or other higher up employee uses their rank and power as leverage in order to intimidate the employee into complying with their request.

What Actions Can I Take in Response to Quid Pro Quo Sexual Harassment?

  1. Try to Handle the Situation Internally
    • If you feel that you have been a victim of quid pro quo sexual harassment at work, the first thing you should do is report the incident(s) in writing to your human resources department and/or direct supervisor. If nothing is done, you may with to take legal action.
  2. File a Charge of Sexual Harassment
    • You will first need to file a charge against your employer with the Equal Opportunity Employment Center (EEOC) and corresponding state agency. If successful, the government agency may order the employer to institute new work policies or file a lawsuit on your behalf. If that is unsuccessful, you can still file a civil lawsuit individually.
  3. File a Civil Lawsuit
    • If you file a lawsuit, in order to prove a claim of quid pro quo harassment most jurisdictions will require the employer to prove that sexual harassment did not occur. Additionally, while it may vary you will generally have to present evidence showing that:
      • You found the conduct hostile, abusive, or offensive;
      • A reasonable person would agree with your interpretation of the situation; and
      • Your employer was aware of the harassment and did nothing to stop it.

You should also keep in mind that if an employer fires you after you have filed a charge or lawsuit, you can also sue your employer for retaliatory discharge, as this is illegal.

Do I Need a Lawyer to Help With my Sexual Harassment Case?

If you have been sexually harassed in the workplace and wish to take legal action, you should contact a local employment lawyer. A lawyer will advise you of your rights and the next steps that you should take. A lawyer can also represent you in any legal proceedings that occur.