Watch Out For Quid-Pro-Quo Sexual Harassment

Sexual harassment, like all types of harassment, comes in many different forms. Lewd remarks or an unwanted touch here or there are not the only forms of sexual assault in the workplace.

Due to the variety of sexual harassment in the workplace, it’s important to have a great understand of what it really means to be harassed. One form of sexual harassment that often goes undetected is quid-pro-quo sexual harassment.

What Does Quid-Pro-Quo Mean?

“Quid-pro-quo” is a Latin phrase that means “this for that” when translated into English. The idea around the phrase essentially means you do this for me, and I’ll do that (something else) for you. Another phrase refers to a similar situation, “You scratch my back, and I’ll scratch yours.”

The Basics of Quid-Pro-Quo Sexual Harassment

From a sexual harassment standpoint, this means a few things. In the workplace, quid-pro-quo sexual harassment occurs when a superior makes the sexual conduct of an employee a factor in advancement or benefits. This could also be used to avoid adverse actions regarding employment, i.e. avoiding getting fired.

Many legal experts believe quid-pro-quo sexual harassment is one of the most underreported harassment cases in the workplace. This is due to the nature of these cases and how difficult they are to prove. Most supervisors don’t come outright and state things in a vulgar manner. Reading between the lines is necessary, but also hard to prove in court.

To prove quid-pro-quo sexual harassment in court, there must be certain conditions that are met. Basically, the victim of the harassment must present a “preponderance” of evidence that the harasser did make unwanted advances or behavior to him or her combined with creating a condition that offers benefits for accepting or penalties for declining.

A “preponderance” of evidence equates to a conclusion one would make after taking in all the evidence. If the acts occurred more likely than not, than there is a clear “preponderance” of evidence.

While this can get detailed and nuanced (aka a great sexual harassment lawyer may be needed), the basics require the plaintiff interacted with defendant regarding employment and the defendant was indeed in a supervisory role or the company knew of the harassment but did little or nothing to stop it.

An Example of Quid-Pro-Quo Sexual Harassment

Instead of getting to deep into the details, let’s look at an actual case of quid-pro-quo sexual harassment. A boss calls an attractive young woman into his office. Talks business, but abruptly begins massaging her shoulders. He invites her to dinner to discuss business. Brings her flowers. Talks about personal topics, often sexual during the dinner.

The woman is not comfortable with this situation, but doesn’t know what to do. Eventually, the boss begins to divulge future business plans to the young woman. He tells her, “If she plays her cards right” with a wink, that she could be up for a promotion.

Now, this isn’t very nuanced, but this could be considered quid-pro-quo sexual harassment. The boss has clearly stated that the woman would have advantages and possibly be promoted by engaging in sexual acts with him.