Is an employer liable for quid pro quo sexual harassment?

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Jeffrey Johnson is a legal writer with a focus on personal injury. He has worked on personal injury and sovereign immunity litigation in addition to experience in family, estate, and criminal law. He earned a J.D. from the University of Baltimore and has worked in legal offices and non-profits in Maryland, Texas, and North Carolina. He has also earned an MFA in screenwriting from Chapman Univer...

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UPDATED: Jul 15, 2021

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Quid pro quo harassment is a specific form of sexual harassment that occurs wherein the conditions of a worker’s job are directly affected by his or her willingness to engage in sexual activity. For example, if your boss tells you that you will get a promotion if you sleep with him or her, this could be an example of quid pro quo sexual harassment. Whether or not the employer is actually going to be liable for quid pro quo sexual harassment will depend on several factors.

If a “tangible employment action” is taken against the employee as a result of quid pro quo sexual harassment, the employer is liable even if they did not know about the harassment until afterward. However, if a supervisor propositions an employee who refuses the advances and no tangible employment action is taken, the employer may be able to avoid liability if he or she took preventive and corrective action and the victim did not take advantage of a sexual harassment complaint procedure. In other words, if an employer has a written or formal policy in place by which a worker can report sexual harassment, and the worker chooses not to take advantage of these protections, it’s possible the worker can be denied recovery from the employer.

If you are the victim of quid pro quo harassment or are being propositioned at work, you need to review your company’s handbook to find out if there are any complaint procedures. If there are, follow the steps outlined to make a complaint and keep detailed records of everyone you contact to report the harassment. Either way, you may be able to file a sexual harassment claim with the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) and/or file a civil suit to collect damages. You should also contact a lawyer as soon as you can after the sexual harassment occurs in order to make sure your legal rights are fully protected. 

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