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What is Quid Pro Quo Sexual Harassment?

What is Quid Pro Quo Sexual Harassment?

When people think of workplace harassment, they often envision inappropriate workplace comments or a hostile environment. But there is another very serious type of sexual harassment that involves abuse of power and threats to someone’s livelihood for sexual gain. This is known as “quid pro quo” harassment.

While less common than hostile work environment issues, quid pro quo allegations constitute a severe breach of an employer’s duty to protect employees, i.e., leveraging authority over someone’s job, income, or career advancement to coerce sexual favors. Quid pro quo sexual harassment often results in severe emotional distress and leaves employees feeling helpless.

In this blog post, we will define quid pro quo sexual harassment, walk through real-world examples, and discuss your options if you’re being harassed.

What Makes Quid Pro Quo Different From Other Types of Harassment?

Quid pro quo sexual harassment carries three distinct attributes separating it from common hostile work environment cases:

1. Advances Originate From a Direct Supervisor

Unlike sexual harassment based on a hostile environment, which can stem from inappropriate comments from co-workers, supervisors, customers, or contractors, quid pro quo sexual harassment comes from a supervisor (or other higher-up) who has influence over assignments, compensation, and/or status. This direct abuse of decision-making power over workers’ livelihoods amplifies damage.

For example, any boss – from a restaurant manager to a shop owner to a CEO – could be liable for quid pro quo sexual harassment by promising pay, continued employment, raises, or any other employment term based on whether an employer provides sexual favors to him or her.

2. Benefits Are Conditioned on Compliance With Requests

Quid pro quo also diverges from other sexual harassment by making clear that certain employment outcomes like keeping a job, earning a promotion, getting a raise, or preferred territory will result from acquiescing to sexual advances.

When owners frame personal intimacy as intertwined with professional development, they violate California employment law. Similarly, implying that a refusal to spend time alone with a supervisor will hamper performance metrics can constitute quid pro quo sexual harassment.

3. A Paper or Electronic Trail May Document Connections

In some cases, a victim’s personnel record, metrics, job duties, and/or income may evidence the result of the quid pro quo sexual harassment.

These tangible changes can correlate with the denial of romantic gestures and can possibly substantiate opportunities for promotion, which were withdrawn as retaliation for rejecting sexual demands.

While perpetrators may carefully avoid explicitly saying, “Sleep with me or I’ll fire you,” records of altered job duties or sudden denied leave upon refusing dinner invitations can serve to establish misconduct.

Examples of Quid Pro Sexual Harassment at Work

To illustrate these elements further, here are a few examples of workplace sexual harassment:

Owners Feeling “Entitled” To Loyal “Companionship”

Small business CEOs may expect or demand disproportionate personal attention from young assistants who are required to tend to their needs above and beyond formal work obligations. This could imply that special out-of-office bonding and affection remain an unspoken condition of supposedly prized secretary roles.

“Wining and Dining” Clients as Cover

When it comes to lucrative sales jobs, securing prime accounts and travel opportunities becomes intertwined with late-night dinners or corporate retreats. These types of events can lead to superiors pressuring salespeople to resort to offering sexual favors to clients or investors to secure accounts or funding.

Scheduling and Denied Leave

Repercussions for refusing inappropriate overtures can be expressed through tactics like rejected vacation requests, being assigned less desirable shifts, and flags about “commitment level.”

All these patterns impose unfair conditions, forcing employees to adopt skewed notions of “success,” requiring intimacy with management to progress.

The Lasting Impacts of Quid Pro Quo Sexual Harassment

The effects of quid pro quo sexual harassment can be severe and lasting. Survivors often battle:

  • Anxiety Depression
  • Destroyed self-confidence
  • Inability to trust colleagues
  • Panic attacks and PTSD

Fortunately, both California and Federal law give victims of quid pro quo sexual harassment recourse to seek recovery.

Employee Rights Against Sexual Harassment in California

Sexual harassment in the workplace is illegal in California, as it violates state and federal anti-discrimination laws. These laws protect all employees from unwelcome sexual advances, requests for sexual favors, and other verbal or physical harassment of a sexual nature from bosses, co-workers, clients, or vendors.

If you experience sexual harassment at your job in California, you have certain rights and may be able to take legal action. Some key employee rights related to sexual harassment in California include:

  • Right to File a Complaint: You can file a sexual harassment complaint through your company’s HR department or the California Civil Rights Department (CRD). This initiates an investigation into your allegations.
  • Right to Sue: In California, you have the right to sue your employer in civil court for causes like sexual harassment, even while a CRD complaint is pending. Lawsuits may seek compensation for financial losses, emotional distress, and punitive damages.
  • Protection from Retaliation: It is illegal for employers in CA to retaliate against workers who file sexual harassment complaints or lawsuits. Retaliation can include demotion, pay cuts, wrongful termination, or threats. Report any suspected retaliation to the DFEH immediately.

If you have suffered sexual harassment at your job, consult an employment lawyer right away to understand your rights. Key laws like the California Fair Employment and Housing Act protect employees and give legal options to seek justice. An experienced attorney can guide you in holding employers accountable and getting the compensation you deserve. Don’t suffer in silence – know and exercise your rights.

Don’t Suffer in Silence – Counsel Offers Confidential Guidance

If anything described here resonates with your workplace experience, understand you have rights and credible advocates ready to offer confidential counsel on constructive paths forward. You are not alone. Please reach out to employment attorneys prepared to pursue justice, accountability and prevention – then recovery can start.

Reach out to Malk Law Firm for a consultation. We focus on workplace sexual harassment and hold companies accountable in California. Please contact our office today to fully understand your options – justice awaits.

Author Bio

Michael Malk is the Founder and Managing Attorney of Malk Law Firm, a Seattle employee rights law firm he started in 2007. With more than 20 years of experience practicing law, he has dedicated his career to representing clients throughout California and Washington in a wide range of legal areas, including unpaid wages, sexual harassment, discrimination, wrongful termination, and other employee rights matters.

Michael received his Juris Doctor from the University of California— Davis School of Law and is a member of the State Bar of California, the State Bar of Washington, and the American Bar Association. He has received numerous accolades for his work, including being named as one of the “Top Attorneys in Southern California” by Los Angeles Magazine in 2018 and being selected as a Super Lawyer for six consecutive years.

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