What is Quid Pro Quo Sexual Harassment?

Quid Pro Quo – Quid pro quo harassment is a specific form of sexual harassment that occurs when an employee’s working conditions are impacted by his or her willingness to engage in sexual activity with a co-worker – usually a supervisor.  For example, when your boss tells you that you will get a promotion if you sleep with him or her (or be demoted or fired if you do not), this would be an example of quid pro quo sexual harassment.

Just because your boss engaged in conduct that would meet the definition of quid pro quo sexual harassment does not automatically mean you can win a sexual harassment lawsuit.  Liability in quid pro quo sexual harassment cases depends on several factors.  If the employer takes a “tangible employment action” against the employee after the employee refused a sexual overture by a superior, the employer will liable – even if the company did not know about the harassment until a lawsuit was filed.

However, if an employee refuses the advances and no tangible employment action is taken against them, the employer might be able to avoid liability if the victim of harassment did not take advantage of a sexual harassment complaint procedure.  In other words, if the company has a written harassment policy instructing employees on how to report sexual harassment, and an employee chooses not to utilize that reporting process, it’s possible the worker may be denied any recovery if they file a sexual harassment suit.   The employee’s failure to use the sexual harassment policy constitutes an affirmative defense to block liability in those cases where no tangible employment action was taken against the worker.

A “tangible employment action” is an adverse action taken against the employee that has a concrete negative impact on their working conditions.  Being fired, demoted, assigned to a particularly undesirable work assignment or location, or other similar actions that make an employee’s working conditions decidedly less favorable can constitute a tangible employment action for the purposes of a sexual harassment suit.   However, less serious negative changes to an employees’ working conditions may not always amount to a tangible employment action under the law.

If you are being propositioned for some kind of sexual encounter at work, you need to review your company’s handbook and carefully follow any harassment complaint procedures it sets forth, keeping records of everything you do to report the situation.  You should also contact a good employment law attorney as early as possible.  Even short delays in cases like these can have serious consequences on your ability to seek redress after something has happened.

If you believe you have been the victim of sexual harassment, you should consult an experienced employment lawyer at Douglas, Leonard & Garvey, P.C.   Call us at (603) 288-1403 or fill out our online contact form.

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