Your manager at work has been flirting with you, and you have laughed it off as no big deal. Recently, at a work event, he told you he has you in mind for a promotion. When you ask him for more information, he tells you the only reason he would recommend you for the job is that he wants you to report to someone else so he can date you. When you tell him you are not interested in dating, he drops all mention of a promotion. You have just experienced quid pro quo harassment.
Quid Pro Quo Defined
“Quid pro quo” is a Latin term that means “something for something” or “this for that.” It is probably the most recognizable form of sexual harassment and involves a harasser who is a superior taking advantage of his or her power in the workplace to demand sexual attention or favors. Like hostile environment harassment, quid pro quo harassment is illegal under Minnesota and federal law. In Meritor Savings Bank v. Vinson, the case in which the U.S. Supreme Court first recognized sexual harassment as a form of sex discrimination, a bank manager raped a subordinate as a condition of her keeping her job. As we’ve seen from the high profile allegations of the #metoo movement, requiring sexual relations in exchange for a choice movie role or promotion is not something that died out in the 80s when it became clearly illegal.
Consensual Relationships Can Turn Bad
Quid pro quo harassment can arise out of consensual relationships in the work place that go bad. A young woman may feel flattered by the attentions of a powerful boss and agree to a sexual relationship. When she tries to break it off, the spurned lover tells her she will be out of a job if she leaves him. Quid pro quo harassment can also happen through subtle hints rather than outright proposals, such as when a supervisor mentions a plumb job assignment at the same time he asks a subordinate to dinner.
How Liability is Established: Quid Pro Quo v. Hostile Work Environment
Quid pro quo harassment differs from hostile work environment in that one proposal or threat from a manager that conditions a job benefit on a sexual relationship or favor is sufficient to establish liability. In a hostile work environment, the boss isn’t making a direct proposition—your job or a promotion for sex. Instead there are comments, jokes, innuendos, physical touching, propositions that interfere with the working conditions of women, but don’t have direct job consequences. A hostile work environment is often more difficult to prove than quid pro quo harassment because it takes an undefined quantity of hostile behavior to prove the work environment actually changed the conditions of employment. On the other hand, hostile work environments normally occur where other people can observe them. Quid pro quo harassment is often the subordinate’s word against her boss.
If you believe you have experienced either forms of harassment you should contact us. Schaefer Halleen is a sexual harassment attorney in Minnesota that specializes in Minnesota and federal sexual harassment and employment discrimination law. These are complicated and draining cases that require expert handling that we can provide.