Quid pro quo Harassment - Definition, Examples, Cases, Processes (2023)

Quid pro quo harassment is a workplace situation wherein a manager promises an employee, or potential employee, something in exchange for a sexual favor. Examples of quid pro quo harassment situations involve a manager promising an employee a job, a raise, or a promotion in exchange for a sexual favor. Managers may also promise the employee that he or she will not be fired, reprimanded, or demoted, provided the employee comply with his or her sexual demand. To explore this concept, consider the following quid pro quo harassment definition.

Definition of Quid Pro Quo


  1. Something that is given, taken, or done in exchange for something else.


1555-1565 Latin (“something for something”)

(Video) 2 Minute Toolbox Talk: Sexual Harassment: Definitions of Quid Pro Quo VS Hostile Environment

What is Quid Pro Quo Harassment

Quid pro quo harassment is the act of promising an employee something in exchange for the satisfaction of a sexual advance. Examples of quid pro quo harassment promises can include a raise, promotion, job offer, or even the withdrawing of a punishment or termination in exchange for the employee going along with the manager’s sexual advances.

While “harassment” is typically defined as repeated incidents, a single incident of this kind of behavior can be considered quid pro quo harassment. Verbal remarks can also be considered examples of quid pro quo harassment.

Those who successfully prove the elements of a quid pro quo harassment claim may be entitled to receive compensatory damages for lost wages or benefits, or even the loss of a job. In some cases, they might even be given their jobs back. Courts may also award plaintiffs damages for emotional distress. Rare though they are, punitive damages may also be awarded to discourage alleged harassers from ever participating in such behavior again, or allowing it to happen.

Sexual Harassment in the Workplace

Usually, sexual harassment in the workplace happens between someone in a position of power, like an owner, manager or supervisor, and an employee. This is because the person in power is in a position wherein he can negotiate with the employee for certain job benefits, for which the employee would have a hard time saying “no” to, such as:

  • A raise
  • A promotion
  • A positive performance review
  • A recommendation for another job
  • A preferred work assignment or shift

Sexual harassment in the workplace can also happen when someone is in fear of experiencing the consequences of refusing a superior’s sexual advances. Such consequences can include:

(Video) Quid pro quo harassment

  • Termination
  • Demotion
  • A negative performance review
  • Less favorable work assignments or shifts
  • Being passed over for a promotion

Sexual harassment in the workplace is a form of sexual harassment, and it is illegal. As such, it can be punished via a lawsuit. If the employee does, in fact, decide to sue, then the company itself can also be held responsible for the alleged harasser’s conduct. This is because the supervisors and managers within the company are supposed to be acting on their employees’ behalf, and are therefore a reflection of the values of the company as a whole.

Quid pro quo harassment complaints can be filed through the state’s employment commission, or through the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (“EEOC”). Interestingly, where the discrimination took place can determine the length of time that one has in which to file a claim. Normally the window is 180 days, however that deadline can be extended in certain cases.

Elements of a Quid Pro Quo Harassment Claim

There are several elements of a quid pro quo harassment claim that must be proven in order to be successful in a sexual harassment lawsuit against a former, current, or potential employer. These elements include:

  • Employment Status – That the plaintiff was either employed by, or applied for a job with, the company in question.
  • Proof of Harassment – That the manager or employee who allegedly did the harassing did, in fact, make unwanted sexual advances toward the plaintiff, or otherwise behaved in such a way that could be interpreted as sexual in nature.
  • Promised Benefits – That the alleged harasser promised certain job benefits to the plaintiff on the condition that the plaintiff accept his proposed sexual advances, or that a hiring decision regarding the plaintiff was based on his or her acceptance or rejection of the proposed advances.
  • Proof of Employment – That the alleged harasser was, at the time of the incident, employed by the company in question.
  • Proof of Harm – That the plaintiff was harmed by the alleged harasser’s conduct, and that the conduct was a significant contributor to the harm done to the plaintiff.

Insofar as the elements of a quid pro quo harassment claim are concerned, the courts seek to establish concrete proof that the harassment had a significant result that impacted the plaintiff’s employment, such as the plaintiff being fired, or being denied a promotion or a position with the company. Even if the plaintiff did, in fact, submit to the alleged harasser’s advances, he or she can still file a claim against the alleged harasser.

Those subjected to sexual harassment may also suffer from emotional distress, which can also be considered a significant factor effecting employment. Typically, the higher the level of emotional distress that is suffered, the higher the damages award. The plaintiff’s mental health records will typically be subpoenaed, which can then work to prove the plaintiff’s mental state and the impact that it had on his or her work.

(Video) Types of Sexual Harassment: Quid Pro Quo

When claiming emotional distress, the plaintiff must be able to show that harasser either directly intended to cause the distress, or acted in such a way that showed that he knew that emotional distress would be the result and acted anyway. The plaintiff must also be able to show that the harasser’s behavior was “outrageous,” which can sometimes be difficult to prove. The effects of emotional distress generally include such things as anxiety, upset stomach, headaches, withdrawal from group activities, a decline in productivity, and the like.

Employer Liability for Sexual Harassment

An employer’s liability for sexual harassment varies, depending on the alleged harasser’s role within the company, and the type of harassment that is being alleged. Even if an employee can prove that he or she was, in fact, the victim of sexual harassment, it is possible that the employer’s liability for sexual harassment may be nonexistent.

However, an employer cannot take such allegations lightly. In fact, it is unlawful for an employer to ignore such allegations, and to fail to make an attempt to remedy the situation. Employers must hold their employees and supervisors liable for any behavior that could be considered sexual harassment.

An employer’s liability for sexual harassment exists only if there is concrete proof that a supervisor made improper use of his or her authority to leverage sex with an employee. Additionally, there is greater liability when the company has fewer supervisors than employees in the workplace, as it easier for the supervisors’ superiors to train them, and monitor their conduct. In this case, there is no excuse for the employer to not know what is going on and cannot therefore claim ignorance in a court of law.

Quid Pro Quo Harassment Example in a Case without Consequence

Kimberly Ellerth was an employee of Burlington Industries for 15 months before she quit, claiming that her supervisor has sexually harassed her, violating her rights under Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964. Her claim alleged that Ted Slowik had made offensive verbal remarks and unwanted sexual advances. Ellerth identified three incidents in particular in which Slowik threatened to deny her job benefits unless she complied with his sexual demands. However, despite refusing Slowik’s advances, Ellerth was not subjected to any retaliation from him and, in fact, received a promotion on one occasion.

(Video) Workplace Harassment Policy - Quid pro Quo

Ellerth was aware of company policy with regard to sexual harassment, yet she did not report Slowik’s advances before quitting. Ellerth sued Burlington in what ultimately became a landmark court case, claiming that the company was responsible for her having to quit her job.

This case differed from the typical quid pro quo harassment case due to the fact that Ellerth did not suffer any consequences from rejecting Slowik’s advances. This case even spawned the “Ellerth Defense,” which is a two-part defense against supervisor sexual harassment. Here, a supervisor is defined as someone who is in a position to take “tangible employment action.”

A tangible employment action, by its very nature, makes the company responsible for the actions of its supervisory employees. This is because the supervisor took advantage of his relationship with the company, in order to behave in this manner. If a tangible employment action did not actually occur, however, that is where the two-part affirmative defense comes in. Here, employers must prove that:

  • The employer reasonably tried to prevent and immediately correct any behavior that could be considered sexual harassment; and
  • The employee unreasonably failed to avoid harm by taking advantage of the remedies available to him or her as provided by the employer (such as reporting it)

The first defense is usually satisfied simply by a company having an effective sexual harassment policy in place, which clearly outlines the process by which employees may report harassment incidents. However, as for the second defense, Ellerth’s case established that it is not unreasonable to fail to report harassment if the individual the employee is to report to, is, in fact, the supervisor who is doing the harassing.

The court dismissed Ellerth’s case on the grounds that she had not suffered any consequences as a result of rejecting Slowik’s advances. She appealed, and the Seventh Circuit Court of Appeals reversed the lower court’s decision. The case then made its way to the U.S. Supreme Court, which was tasked with determining this: Can an employee recover damages against his or her employer, without having to prove it was responsible for the supervisor’s conduct.

(Video) Quid Pro Quo Sexual Harassment

In this example of quid pro quo harassment, the Supreme Court held that employers are liable for their supervisors creating hostile work environments for their subordinates. The Court noted that employers are permitted to defend themselves against potential liability by proving that they acted quickly to prevent and/or stop harassing behavior. The employer must also prove that the harassed employee failed to take advantage of the protection offered by the company. Burlington proved neither defense, however, and so the Court found in Ellerth’s favor in a 7-2 decision.

Related Legal Terms and Issues

  • Compensatory Damages – An award of money in compensation for actual economic loss, property damage, or injury, not including punitive damages.
  • Plaintiff – A person who brings a legal action against another person or entity, such as in a civil lawsuit, or criminal proceedings.
  • Punitive Damages – Money awarded to the injured party above and beyond their actual damages. Punitive damages may be awarded in cases where the defendant’s actions in regard to the case are malicious, or so reckless as to give a reasonable person pause. Punitive damages, also referred to as “exemplary damages,” are ordered for the purpose of punishing the wrongdoer for outrageous misconduct in a civil matter.


What is an example case of quid pro quo? ›

When a supervisor in a position to influence a subordinate's employment status offers job perks in exchange for sexual favors, it is quid pro quo sexual harassment. Examples include offering a raise, better work hours, a promotion, a favorable transfer, or workplace perks like cars and vacations.

What are the three elements of quid pro quo harassment? ›

The elements of claim of quid pro quo harassment

That the harasser made unwanted sexual advances or engaged in other physical or verbal conduct that was sexual and unwanted. That job benefits were conditioned on the plaintiff's acceptance of the sexual advances.

Which of the following statements best describes quid pro quo harassment? ›

Quid Pro Quo harassment is a form of sexual harassment when there is a request or demand of sexual favors in exchange for employment benefits or threatening reprisals if the favors are not given.

What is quid pro quo harassment case law? ›

Under California employment law, quid pro quo workplace sexual harassment occurs when a supervisor implicitly or explicitly requests a sexual favor in exchange for a job-related benefit such as a promotion, increased pay, or a favorable performance evaluation.

What is a clear example of quid pro quo harassment? ›

In most cases, quid pro quo sexual harassment occurs when a supervisor seeks sexual favors from a worker in return for some type of job benefit — such as a raise, better hours, promotion, etc. — or to avoid some type of detriment like a pay cut, demotion, poor performance review, etc.

Which of the following is an example of quid pro quo harassment quizlet? ›

Sexual harassment that creates a hostile work environment is more subtle than quid pro quo sexual harassment. Lewd jokes and sexually oriented comments are examples of quid pro quo sexual harassment.

Which of the following scenarios is an example of quid pro quo harassment? ›

Examples of this type of harassment can include: A supervisor requesting sexual favors as a condition for hiring, promotion, advancement, or opportunities. A manager threatening to terminate, transfer, demote, or otherwise adversely affect an employee's work life if sexual favors are not given or continued.

What the requirements are for making a case under quid pro quo? ›

How to Prove Quid Pro Quo Harassment
  • The plaintiff must have been an employee of, or applied for a job with, the defendant.
  • The defendant and alleged harasser must have made unwanted sexual advances to the plaintiff or engaged in other unwanted verbal or physical conduct of a sexual nature.
Apr 13, 2021

Which of the following can be classified as quid pro quo? ›

A bartering arrangement between two parties is an example of a quid pro quo business agreement where one exchanges something for something else of similar value.

What types of discrimination are considered quid pro quo? ›

Quid pro quo discrimination is a type of employment discrimination in which an employee is offered benefits or threatened with adverse consequences if they do not comply with the employer's sexual advances or requests for sexual favors. This type of discrimination is illegal under both federal and state law.

Who is the only type of person who can engage in quid pro quo harassment? ›

While various forms of sexual harassment can be committed by anyone, including co-workers, clients, contractors, and supervisors, quid pro quo sexual harassment can only be committed by a person who has a supervisory position over the employee. This can mean a direct supervisor, or even the company's CEO.

Who is typically the perpetrator of quid pro quo harassment? ›

Generally speaking, Quid Pro Quo Sexual Harassment happens when the perpetrator is in a position of authority over the victim. This usually involves an employer or supervisor and their employee.

Is quid pro quo the most common type of harassment? ›

The two most common forms of harassment in the workplace are quid pro quo harassment and hostile work environment. Quid pro quo is a Latin term meaning “this for that”. This type of harassment occurs when a victim's response to unwanted sexual advances determines his/her basis for employment decisions.

What is quid pro quo harassment and hostile work environment? ›

This is usually the most blatant kind of sexual harassment. This occurs when employment decisions are based upon an employee's willingness to grant sexual favors in exchange for working benefits such as promotions, increases, preferred assignments or punishment such as being demoted or fired.

What is the best example of tangible job detriment or quid pro quo? ›

Quid pro quo sexual harassment can also occur as part of a threat, specifically a threat to remove a job benefit unless a demand is met. For example, a supervisor tells an employee that the employee's work hours will be cut unless she agrees to go on a date with the supervisor.

What are some examples of impacts of harassment in the workplace? ›

Absenteeism, reduced performance, high employee turnover, bad morale, and legal costs associated with sexual harassment cost businesses millions of dollars each year. Sexual harassment victims and survivors are far more likely to leave, resulting in significant employee turnover and increased hiring and training costs.

Which of the following are examples of harassment? ›

Examples of Personal Harassment
  • Inappropraite or rude comments.
  • Offensive jokes.
  • Personal humilation.
  • Overly critical remarks.
  • Ostracizing behaviors.
  • Intimidation tactics.

How do you deal with quid pro quo harassment? ›

Employees seeking justice for a quid pro quo harassment claim typically must file a complaint with a state and/or federal labor protection agency first. Claimants have 180 days in which to file with the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC).

How do you stop quid pro quo harassment? ›

Preventing Quid Pro Quo Sexual Harassment

Culture that encourages respect and open dialogue. Training and awareness to ensure everyone understand what harassment is. Effective investigations to ensure that harassment is not allowed to continue. Enforcement of consequences for violations of harassment policies.

Is quid pro quo manipulation? ›

Quid pro quo attacks are based on manipulation and abuse of trust. As such, they fall into the category of social engineering techniques, such as phishing attacks (including spear phishing and whaling attacks), baiting or pretexting.

What do the majority of quid pro quo incidents involve? ›

Generally, quid pro quo harassment in California involves an employer offering a work benefit in exchange for sexual favors. However, it may not look like a benefit but rather an employer threatening to make your time at work unbearable if you don't give in to their demands for sexual favors.

Are victims of harassment entitled to damages even if no loss of pay? ›

Victims of harassment are entitled to damages even if no loss of pay, benefits or employment opportunity was suffered. Employers may avoid liability in situations where the harassment was perpetrated by non-supervisory personal and if all aspects of the law were followed.

What is an example of a quid pro quo social engineering? ›

A quid pro quo attack is a low-level form of hacking that relies on social engineering. An example would be when an attacker calls your phone pretending to be from one of your service providers' technical support representatives.

What is quid pro quo context? ›

Quid pro quo ('what for what' in Latin) is a Latin phrase used in English to mean an exchange of goods or services, in which one transfer is contingent upon the other; "a favor for a favor".

Who is a victim of quid pro quo? ›

Quid pro quo sexual harassment (translated from Latin as “this for that”) occurs when an employer or supervisor asks or suggests through physical conduct that an employee perform sexual favors in return for some benefit at work, such as favorable performance reviews, desirable work shifts or promotions.

What are quid pro quo techniques? ›

Technically speaking, a quid pro quo attack is a type of baiting method. However, instead of trying to get someone to fall for something out of their own curiosity or fear, cyber actors offer them something in return. The Latin phrase means “a favor for a favor,” and that's essentially what it boils down to.

What is for conduct to meet the legal standard for quid pro quo? ›

“Quid pro quo” literally means “this for that” in Latin. Quid pro quo sexual harassment occurs when employment, pay, benefits, title, position or other opportunities for advancement or training are conditioned on the submission to unwelcome sexual advances. Whether the harassment is explicit or implicit, it is illegal.

Who does quid pro quo harassment occur between? ›

Quid pro quo (this for that) harassment occurs when someone in a position of authority over another (i.e., a manager or supervisor) directly or indirectly demands sexual favors in exchange for some benefit (a promotion, pay increase, etc.) or to avoid some detriment (termination, demotion, etc.) in the workplace.

How do you deal with quid pro quo? ›

The best way to handle a quid pro quo case is to get a lawyer immediately involved. You may be faced with a compensatory settlement that requires you to pay back lost wages, opportunities or insurance benefits. A victim may also file for punitive damages based on emotional pain and suffering.


1. Sexual harassment at work | Lawyer explains the law
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2. What Does Quid Pro Quo Mean?
3. Sexual Harassment
4. SPECIAL GUESTS: Robert John Burke & Good Politic Guy
(JENerational Change)
5. Sexual Harassment in the Workplace
6. CA Sexual Harassment Law Explained by an Employment Lawyer
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