There are two main categories of sexual harassment, quid pro quo and a hostile work environment. Both are illegal in California and at the federal level. While a hostile work environment is easy to understand, many don’t know exactly what quid pro quo is or what the phrase stands for. We’ll explain it below.

Whether you’ve experienced quid pro quo or hostile work environment sexual harassment—or both, contact the employment law lawyers at The Dominguez Firm for a FREE and completely confidential consultation today at 800-818-1818. Every person deserves a safe workplace. When that doesn’t happen, those responsible should be held accountable for their actions.

Please read on to find out more about quid pro quo sexual harassment and what you can do if you’ve been subjected to it at work.

What is Quid Pro Quo Sexual Harassment?

The term itself is Latin and means “this for that”. Quid pro quo sexual harassment occurs when a supervisor implies, requests or demands sexual favors from an employee in return for a positive work action or to avoid a negative one.

Examples of positive work actions in return for sexual favors:

  • Raise
  • Promotion
  • Improved hours
  • Improved benefits
  • Transfer to a more desirable department or location

Examples of negative work actions in return for sexual favors:

  • Demotion
  • Reduced salary and/or a reduction in hours
  • Being given undesirable work shifts, such as the overnight shift and/or holidays
  • Being given undesirable work tasks that they previously didn’t have to perform
  • Being fired

The gender or gender identity of the employee and supervisor in question doesn’t matter. What does is whether the supervisor making the request or threat has the power to follow through on it. If they don’t, the victim will probably still be able to file a sexual harassment claim for a hostile work environment, but they wouldn’t have a quid pro quo claim.

One last note; you don’t necessarily have to be an employee to sue for quid pro quo sexual harassment. Job candidates and independent contractors who experience this type of illegal behavior can also sue. For example, if the person in charge of hiring offers you a job in exchange for sexual favors, you would have a quid pro quo claim.

Independent contractors working for a company as either a freelancer, temporary employee or consultant are also protected and can file a civil claim if this happens to them. As with company employees, the perpetrator must be able to follow through on their offer or threat.

What Are Some Examples of Quid Pro Quo Sexual Harassment?

There are many, but some of the most common include:

Threatening an employee with termination if they end a previously consensual relationship – A supervisor and an employee may have started a consensual relationship. If the employee wants to break up, the supervisor may threaten them with termination or other unfavorable job action. Even if the relationship started out consensually, threatening the subordinate employee with termination or demoted would be an example of quid pro quo sexual harassment. This possible scenario is probably the main reason many companies discourage or prohibit supervisors from dating subordinates.

Being offered a job on the condition the applicant agree to sexual favors – If a job applicant is offered a position in exchange for sexual favors, that would be a prime example of quid pro quo sexual harassment, even if they aren’t employed by the company they are interviewing for yet.

If an outside recruiter demonstrates this kind of behavior and can impact whether the person is ultimately hired or not, their job agency would be liable for the recruiter’s behavior. If they can’t influence whether the job candidate gets hired, the job candidate may still have a claim for hostile workplace sexual harassment, even if they never worked through that agency.

Being offered a favorable job action for sexual favors – When a supervisor in a position to make good on his proposition offers a subordinate a favorable job action in exchange for sexual favors, this would be an example of quid pro quo sexual harassment. These can include a raise, promotion, favorable transfer or better work hours.

Offering certain benefits only if sexual favors are granted – This is a variation on favorable job actions for sexual favors, but the perpetrator is offering less common financial benefits such as raises or promotions. These can include a company car, exclusive first-class or business class air travel and a company expense account with a generous limit.

Quid pro quo sexual harassment isn’t just limited to offering to improve or threatening a person’s salary or job level. It can include other aspects of their jobs as well. The promises or threats can be open or implied. Also, just one incident of quid pro quo behavior is enough to file a complaint with a company’s human resources department. There is no set number of incidents required.

What Should I Do if Experience Quid Pro Quo Sexual Harassment?

There are certain steps you need to take before you can file a sexual harassment lawsuit against your employer. Note that you can’t skip these steps.

Report the behavior to your HR department as soon as it starts – Whether you experience quid pro quo or a hostile work environment sexual harassment, it’s important to report the behavior to your supervisor or someone in your company’s human resources department as soon as it starts. If you don’t, your company can rightfully say they didn’t know you were being sexually harassed, even if they had a clue or knew outright. That doesn’t let them off the hook completely since lack of knowledge on their part is not an excuse. However, a lack of evidence and a paper trail does weaken your claim.

This can’t be emphasized enough: do not wait to start the process. If you do delay, defense counsel will question how severe the perpetrator’s behavior was. This may seem unfair, but it’s a common defense tactic.

If you work for a private company, you should file your complaint with the HR department after the first incident. However, if your employer is a public entity, you should file a complaint with the California Department of Fair Employment and Housing (DFEH).

The DFEH will issue a “right to sue” notice. That gives the employee and their attorney a year to file their civil lawsuit against the employer.

Keep all evidence and records – Make sure to report every incident. If you have text messages or emails from the perpetrator, save them. It’s normal to want to erase or delete any offensive material from the person harassing you but don’t. This is vital evidence for your claim. Any correspondence between you and your HR department is also important. Keep all records, even if you think they’re insignificant. In short, save all of it.

Get witness contact information – Make sure you get the contact information of anyone who witnessed the harassment. This includes their names, emails and phone numbers.

Avoid social media – You may want to shame the person who sexually harassed you online, but refrain from doing so. Anything you post on social media is fair game. Defense lawyers can easily use your media posts against you in an attempt to damage your case.

If your employer ignores or rejects your quid pro quo claim – File a report with the DFEH or EEOC. You don’t have to file a claim with both, one will do. At this point, you should also take the following step;

Hire an experienced sexual harassment lawyer – If you’ve gone through all the proper channels without success, it’s time to hire an experienced employment lawyer that specializes in quid pro quo sexual harassment cases.

I Was a Temporary Employee. Can I Still File a Quid Pro Quo Sexual Harassment Lawsuit?

Yes. It doesn’t matter whether you were a temporary employee, freelancer or independent contractor. If you were in any of these categories of employees, you can still file a sexual harassment lawsuit for quid pro quo sexual harassment. That is, as long as you were working for the company when it happened.

However, just like a company or government employee, the supervisor in question must be able to follow through on their offer or threat. If they can’t, you may still be able to file a sexual harassment claim against the company or government entity for a hostile workplace.

How Do You Prove Quid Pro Quo Sexual Harassment?

You’ve taken the necessary steps and filed a complaint with your company for being subjected to quid pro quo sexual harassment. You have strong evidence of the harassment including emails and text messages from the perpetrator. You may even have witnesses to the behavior. If you’ve done everything asked of you but your company has done nothing or denied any wrongdoing, it’s time to seek out the help of an experienced employment law attorney.

To prove you were the victim of quid pro quo sexual harassment, your employment law lawyer will need to prove the following:

  • You were an employee of the company, a job applicant or an independent contractor working for the company.
  • The perpetrator was employed by the company or was contracted to work in a supervisory capacity (for example, a freelancer in charge of a project).
  • The person approached you in a sexually physically or verbal manner. This behavior was unwanted on your part.
  • The supervisor let you know you would receive certain positive work actions or suffer negative work actions depending on your response to their request for sexual favors.
  • The perpetrator’s conduct harmed you emotionally and/or physically.

Quid pro quo sexual harassment lawsuits can boil down to one person’s word against the other’s. These cases can often be complex. And if you’re going up against a large corporation, you can be certain they have high-powered defense attorneys on their payroll. That’s why gathering evidence of the conduct, including any witnesses is so important. With the right attorney and evidence, you can prove your case.

When Does Quid Pro Quo Sexual Harassment Become Sexual Assault?

If you were forced to engage in sexual acts through threats, force or while you were incapacitated, this is sexual assault, which is a crime.

Your safety should always be your top priority. If you were sexually assaulted or are in danger, don’t hesitate to call 911 right away.

If the person who attacked you is charged with sexual assault, that would be a criminal case. Only the state of California can file criminal charges against the individual. Their punishment would be prison time. Note that even if the person is found not guilty of sexual assault in a criminal court, you would still be able to sue them for sexual assault in a civil court. If you do that, the court can’t sentence the perpetrator to time in prison. Instead, you would be entitled to monetary damages, the legal term for compensation.

What Should You Do if You Witness Quid Pro Quo Sexual Harassment?

If you witness quid pro quo sexual harassment, you can and should help the person being targeted by the behavior. You are well within your rights to report the behavior to your human resources department or supervisor.

If your employer retaliates against you for reporting the conduct and takes a negative job action against you, you would have a possible retaliation claim against them. The same holds true if you are called as a witness against the perpetrator of the quid pro quo sexual harassment during an internal investigation. If you are fired or threatened for stating you did see the behavior, you’re justified in filing a claim against your employer.

In summary, if you witness quid pro quo sexual harassment of a colleague, you can safely report it to your company’s HR department or a supervisor without fear of reprisal. If there is any retaliation, such as being fired, you can effectively sue your employer for that.

What if I’m Fired After Reporting Quid Pro Quo Sexual Harassment?

Then you would have two possible claims, one for quid pro quo sexual harassment and another one for retaliation if your employer fires you.

Retaliation is exactly what it sounds like. It occurs when an employer retaliates against an employee who reports being sexually harassed. Note that the same laws that protect you from sexual harassment, also protect you from retaliation. If your employer fires you for filing a quid pro quo sexual harassment claim, you have two possible claims.

Retaliation isn’t limited to being fired. Other examples of retaliation can include:

  • Reduced hours
  • Unfavorable hours, such as overnight or holidays
  • Reduced benefits
  • Suddenly being micromanaged
  • Poor annual job performance review
  • Demotion
  • Being excluded from company events

If you’ve been retaliated against for reporting quid pro quo sexual harassment, call the employment law lawyers at The Dominguez Firm for a free consultation right away. These cases can be complex. The sooner we get to work on your claim, the better.

How the Dominguez Firm Can Help You

No one should be subjected to sexual harassment on the job. The good news is California and the federal government prohibit quid pro quo sexual harassment. You don’t have to put up with it under any circumstances. Instead, take legal action against those who violate your right to a safe workplace.

You may think you can’t afford to hire an experienced employment law firm, think again. If the employment law attorneys at The Dominguez Firm prevail and obtain compensation on your behalf, your employer will be required to pay all of our legal fees and costs. And if we can’t secure any compensation for you, which rarely happens, you owe us nothing. In other words, you win or you don’t pay. There’s no reason to wait.

Don’t take your company’s defense attorneys on by yourself. This is especially true for complex quid pro quo cases, such as when there was a previously consensual relationship between you and a supervisor. Instead,  call The Dominguez Firm at 800-818-1818 for a free and completely confidential consultation today. Waiting can hurt your claim so contact us right away. We’re available 24/7 to take your call.


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