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What Is a Quid Pro Quo?

Word or phrase Quid pro quo in a dictionary

California workers are guaranteed the right to be free from sexual harassment in the workplace. Sexual harassment is a form of gender and sex discrimination prohibited under both state and federal law. Harassment can take many forms, although sexual harassment is usually broken down into two categories: “hostile work environment” harassment and “quid pro quo” harassment. Quid pro quo harassment represents the type of “classic” sexual harassment people tend to imagine, often portrayed in media. For employees who may have been subject to harassment or discrimination in the workplace, it’s important to understand the actual elements of a quid pro quo harassment claim. Continue reading to learn about quid pro quo harassment, and if you’ve been subjected to harassment in your workplace, call our Orange County sexual harassment attorney for trusted advice and representation.

What Is Quid Pro Quo Sexual Harassment?

“Quid pro quo” is a Latin phrase that roughly translates to “this for that.” Quid pro quo implies an exchange: You do something for me, I do something for you. In the employment law context, quid pro quo harassment refers to instances in which an employer offers something of value to an employee, or threatens to take away something of value, in exchange for a sexual or romantic favor.

Quid pro quo harassment is the quintessential, “classic” form of sexual harassment: A supervisor tells an employee that he will give her a promotion if she agrees to have sex with him. The exchange need not be so crass, and the exchange might take the form of a threat rather than a benefit. A supervisor might, for example, tell an employee she will be demoted or fired if she refuses to date the supervisor.

Proving Quid Pro Quo Sexual Harassment

Quid pro quo sexual harassment occurs when a supervisor makes an unwanted sexual advance toward or request of an employee in exchange for an employment benefit or under threat of punishment. In California, the elements of a claim for quid pro quo harassment claim are dictated by the Fair Employment and Housing Act (FEHA).

According to FEHA, an employee has a claim for quid pro quo harassment when:

  • An employee was subjected to unwanted sexual advances, demands, or comments;

  • The conduct was perpetrated by the employee’s supervisor–either a direct supervisor or someone higher up the corporate chain;

  • The employee was informed explicitly or implicitly that they would experience a tangible negative employment action (including the withholding of a possible benefit) if they refused the advances or reported the conduct.

The “quid” can be any sort of sexual advance–a request for a date, unwanted physical contact, a demand for sex or sexual activity, etc. The “quo” may take the form of a promised benefit for compliance with the employer’s demands or a threat of punishment for refusing to comply with the request. The employment benefit might be, for example:

  • A promotion
  • A raise
  • A bonus
  • Transfer to a better position or location
  • Better shifts
  • Time off

The threat of negative action may involve:

  • Salary reduction
  • Demotion
  • Termination
  • Relocation to a less desirable position or location
  • Denial of the tools necessary to do the job
  • Exclusion from company events

A quid pro quo harassment claim is generally based on the employer carrying out the threat (e.g., wrongful termination). If the threat was not carried out, the employee might still have a claim based on hostile work environment harassment.

If you are an employee facing sexual harassment, discrimination, or other labor law issues in Orange, Riverside, San Bernardino, Los Angeles, or San Diego counties, or a California employer dealing with employee rights allegations, wage & hour issues, employee contract disputes, or other employment law issues, contact a seasoned and comprehensive California employment law attorney at Coast Employment Law at 714-551-9930 for a free consultation.

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