What Is Quid Pro Quo Harassment?

Quid pro quo harassment is a type of workplace harassment where one favor is exchanged for another. This harassment occurs when someone with authority uses his or her power over others to gain sexual favors or other benefits or makes hints towards such a deal. Here are some examples of offers these authority figures give in exchange for a favor:

  • Employees will be rewarded with a raise or promotion.
  • Employees won't be fired or reprimanded.
  • Job candidates will be hired.

Quid pro quo harassment is viewed in some cases as employers or managers abusing their power. It is prohibited as a form of sex discrimination, a violation of labor or tort law, and as a matter of criminal law.

Elements of a Quid Pro Quo Harassment Claim

When submitting a harassment claim, there are typically three main parties involved:

  1. The plaintiff (i.e. the employee or job applicant who felt that sexual favors were expected of him or her)
  2. The defendant (the company involved in the claim)
  3. The individual alleged to have harassed the plaintiff

The elements of a quid pro quo harassment case can be summarized as follows:

  • Either benefits (progression, salary increases, etc.) were implied if the plaintiff was to accept the sexual requests, or the plaintiff was told that there would be negative consequences if they were to reject.
  • The time when alleged incident(s) were said to have taken place, person reported to have committed the offense was working for the company in question.
  • The reported conduct and the actions of the harasser caused harm to the defendant.

In a real-life scenario, when quid pro quo harassment claims are brought forward in court, the courts search for evidence that the reported harassment would have led to a major incident that affected the plaintiff's career. For example, the plaintiff was overlooked for a project or career progression opportunity as a result of refusing to submit to requests.

Plaintiffs are still entitled to file claims, even if they eventually submitted to the requests of the harasser. Once a claimant forms their sexual harassment case and confirms that the case meets the applicable legal standards, then the defendant (the employer) typically has to prove that the harassment either did not occur at all, or that it occurred for reasons that were non-discriminatory.

During the case, plaintiffs involved may recover compensatory damages such as lost benefits and wages, lost employment opportunities, and factors such as emotional upset and distress. In some cases, they can reclaim their job.

In especially bad quid pro quo harassment cases, punitive damages may also be given as a means to discourage the defendant from allowing, or engaging in, any sexual harassment in future. However, it is not common for punitive damages to be awarded, and they are only given if the claimant is able to establish that his or her employer acted with reckless indifference to their rights, or with malice.

If an employee wishes to take a quid pro quo harassment case to the courtroom, they generally must submit a complaint to a federal and/or state labor protection agency beforehand. The claimant will have 6 months (or 180 days) to file a complaint with the EEOC.

Remedies and Consequences of a Quid Pro Quo Case

The employer is usually held strictly liable in quid pro quo sexual harassment cases because those individuals who commit quid pro quo harassment offenses (managers, supervisors, and agents) are seen to be acting on behalf of the company that employs them.

As stated earlier, the remedies for quid pro quo sexual harassment victims may include the recovery of compensatory damages. Across the globe, a criminal fine or a prison term may be an additional result of a successful quid pro quo harassment prosecution.

Other Forms of Quid Pro Quo Harassment

Most people believe that quid pro quo only relates to sexual harassment, but in fact it can cross over into other forms of harassment. If a trade is an exchange that involves factors such as sex, gender identity and expression, national origin, race, creed, religion, sexual orientation, age, political affiliation, veteran status, genetic information or a disability then it is intolerable.

If you have an existing or potential sexual harassment case unfolding in your workplace, you can post your legal need on UpCounsel’s marketplace. UpCounsel accepts only the top 5 percent of lawyers to its site. Lawyers on UpCounsel come from law schools such as Harvard Law and Yale Law and average 14 years of legal experience, including work with or on behalf of companies like Google, Menlo Ventures, and Airbnb.