What is “Quid Pro Quo” Sexual Harassment?

HomeDiscriminationWhat is “Quid Pro Quo” Sexual Harassment?
April 12, 2023

Sexual harassment in California usually comes in two forms: quid pro quo or hostile work environment harassment. Whereas a hostile work environment involves severe or pervasive sexual comments or behavior that alter the workplace for employees, quid pro quo is the more commonly understood form of sexual harassment.

Quid pro quo is the Latin phrase relating to an exchange of goods or services, essentially meaning a favor for a favor, give and take, or tit for tat. In most cases, quid pro quo sexual harassment involves a supervisor seeking sexual favors in exchange for a promotion, raise, or another benefit, but it could also involve termination when requests are denied.

Proving Quid Pro Quo Harassment Claims

An employee must be able to prove certain elements if they want to hold an employer liable for quid pro quo sexual harassment in the workplace. Elements of quid pro quo harassment cases often include:

  • An employee is a member of a protected class that protects them from workplace discrimination on the basis of sex.
  • An employee was the target of unwelcome sexual advances from a supervisor. 
  • The harassment was sexually motivated by the harasser.
  • An employee’s reaction to the sexual advances negatively impacted some aspects of their employment.
  • An employer is liable for harassment under the legal principle of respondeat superior, the legal doctrine under which an employer can be responsible for actions of employees performed during the course of employment

Laws governing workplace sexual harassment in California include the Fair Employment and Housing Act (FEHA) and California Government Code § 12940. FEHA establishes that the legal requirements of a claim for quid pro quo sexual harassment include:

  • An employee experiencing unwelcome sexual advances, demands, or comments
  • Sexual advances coming from a supervisor 
  • When an employee rejects sexual demands, some kind of negative employment action resulting

Quid pro quo cases can involve either people being promised benefits for complying with requests for sexual favors or negative actions for refusals. Possible benefits may include promotions, raises, more favorable shift assignments, or transfers to more desirable job duties, while consequences may include demotions, assignments to less desirable shifts or less desirable job duties, or terminations.

When an employer does not follow through on a threat following a quid pro quo sexual harassment encounter, then a person will not have a quid pro quo claim. They could still have a hostile work environment claim, however.

When a person files a sexual harassment claim, they will be protected by the law. If an employer or another employee retaliates in any way, the employer can be strictly liable.

People may be able to recover damages for lost wages, benefits, or employment opportunities in these cases. There could also be noneconomic damages for emotional distress, and some people may even be reinstated to their former jobs. 

In a very limited number of cases, punitive damages could be possible when a court wants to punish an employer for a particularly egregious violation of the law. 

Contact Our Quid Pro Quo Sexual Harassment Attorneys in San Francisco

Do you think that you were the victim of quid pro quo sexual harassment anywhere in the greater San Francisco area? You will want to work with Olivier & Schreiber, LLP, because we have extensive experience handling all kinds of sexual harassment claims. 

Our firm will immediately investigate your case and work to secure all of the evidence you will need to prove your claim in court. You can contact us online to set up a free consultation with our San Francisco quid pro quo sexual harassment attorney.




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