Expertly Reviewed By: Serah Waweru, Esq., on April 10, 2023
If you or a loved one has been sexually harassed in the workplace, it could be a case of quid pro quo sexual harassment. Here is everything you should know about this form of harassment in the workplace, and what to do if you are a victim.
What Is Quid Pro Quo Sexual Harassment?
Quid pro quo sexual harassment is a form of workplace sexual harassment that involves an individual in a position of power requesting sexual favors from a subordinate in exchange for job benefits or protection.
Under Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, there are two types of sexual harassment:
- Hostile environment harassment
- Quid pro quo harassment
In most cases, the authority figure seeks sexual favors or performs unwelcome sexual advances in exchange for job opportunities—such as a pay raise, promotion, better assignments, etc.—or to avoid negative consequences (e.g., demotion, termination, and a pay cut).
Quid pro quo harassment existed even before the hashtag #MeToo became viral. The first case that acknowledged quid pro quo harassment as a form of gender or sex-based discrimination under the Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 was the Williams v. Saxbe case in 1976.
Diane Williams (the plaintiff) was an African American woman who worked as a public information specialist at the U.S. Department of Justice (DOJ) Community Relations Service (CRS). Harvey Brinson, her married supervisor, attempted to date her. She refused, of course.
Because of the rejection, Mr. Brinson repeatedly humiliated her at work and even threatened to fire or transfer her. In September 1972, he finally fired her, allegedly due to her poor performance. So, Ms. Williams took legal action and won the case. This landmark case served as a precedent for future cases that address the same issue.
Workplace Sexual Harassment Statistics
There is no current data on the statistics of quid pro quo sexual harassment in the United States. However, the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) received 13,044 sexual harassment complaints in 2020.
While anyone can be a victim of sexual harassment, women are usually more likely to experience it than men. Two years after the #MeToo social movement exploded in popularity in 2017, the EEOC saw a significant increase in the sexual harassment cases they received. Out of the 98,411 charges alleging harassment, 27,291 involved sexual harassment.
According to the EEOC, the following are the top 10 U.S. states with the highest number of sexual harassment cases per 10,000 population (16 years old and older) between the years 2018 and 2021:
- District of Columbia
The information above isn’t specific to quid pro quo harassment but to sexual harassment in general. This is because the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission usually classifies all types of sexual harassment into one category. In addition, many sexual harassment cases are underreported for different reasons (e.g., fear of retaliation in the workplace), so the actual numbers could be higher.
What is the Statute of Limitation on Quid Pro Quo Harassment?
The standard quid pro quo statute of limitations is 180 days from the date of the alleged sexual harassment. However, in some states, it can extend to 300 days.
Keep in mind that the time limitations for filing a quid pro quo harassment complaint will vary for every state. Sometimes, the specific conditions of the case can affect the statute of limitations.
For instance, if you live in Georgia, you need to file your complaint with the EEOC within 180 days from the latest incident of quid pro quo harassment. However, to conform to the state’s law, this deadline could be extended to 300 days.
In New York City, the New York City Commission on Human Rights requires you to file a case within 12 months of the latest incident of quid pro quo harassment.
California requires filing of a quid pro quo harassment complaint within three years after the last incident of harassment. The California Civil Rights Department (CRD) is responsible for receiving this kind of complaint.
⚖️ PRO TIP: If you’re unsure about the statute of limitations for quid pro quo sexual harassment in your state or city, it’s always a good idea to consult a lawyer or legal expert.
What to Do If You Believe You’ve Experienced Quid Pro Quo Harassment?
It can be stressful to work in an environment where you have to constantly deal with sexual advances and threats from your supervisor. Here are some of the steps you can take to put a stop to quid pro quo harassment:
Report the incident to the company’s human resources department. The exact procedures vary from employer to employer, but the HR department usually investigates the issue and takes extra steps if needed.
However, for obvious reasons, there’s a possibility that your employer will dismiss your complaint. Or worse, you might experience retaliation from your supervisor. If that happens, your next step is to file a complaint with the EEOC within 180 days of the last incident of sexual harassment.
Writing down each incident of sexual harassment can greatly help in proving your case. Below are some of the details you should include in your documentation:
- Date and time of the incidents
- Where it happened
- Witnesses (if any)
- Exact details of what happened
- Your reactions and emotions
Know Your Legal Rights.
When you know and understand your rights, you’ll know exactly what should (or shouldn’t) be done and act accordingly. Your employer can’t just silence you and avoid legal responsibilities. If necessary, consult with a lawyer.
Find a Good Support System
Support can come from family, close friends, and a therapist. There are also many non-profit organizations that support sexual assault survivors and help them bring perpetrators to justice. Don’t be afraid to seek support from other people or organizations.
File a Lawsuit
Consider filing a lawsuit against your employer if they fail to take appropriate action to resolve your complaint or if the sexual assault doesn’t stop. Cases like this can take anywhere from 18 months to 3 years, depending on factors such as court backlogs and the complexity of your case.
How Do You Prove Quid Pro Quo Harassment?
Several elements need to be present to prove quid pro quo sexual harassment. Let’s go through some of the elements of quid pro quo harassment.
#1. The defendant, an employee of company Y who’s in a position of power, did any of the following:
- Requested for sexual favors
- Made unwelcome sexual advances
- Engaged in physical or verbal harassment that’s sexual in nature
#2. The person being harassed (the plaintiff) was or is an employee of or a job applicant for company Y (the defendant).
#3. The action of the alleged harasser was a significant factor in causing harm to the plaintiff.
#4. The defendant clearly expressed, whether through conduct or words, that the plaintiff would receive certain employment benefits if they accepted the sexual advances or behavior. Or, the plaintiff’s acceptance or rejection of the defendant’s conduct became the basis for any decision relating to the conditions of the plaintiff’s employment.
#5. When the sexual harassment happened, the defendant was the plaintiff’s manager or supervisor. An individual can only claim quid pro quo harassment if the person who committed it is in a supervisory role with respect to the plaintiff. This can be anyone, including:
- An immediate supervisor or manager.
- A manager’s supervisor.
- Anyone who occupies a higher level of position in a company.
#6. The plaintiff experienced an adverse employment consequence(s) after refusing to submit to the defendant’s sexual advances. The consequence could be a demotion, termination, a reduced salary, being passed over for promotion, constant verbal abuse, or anything along those lines.
⚖️ PRO TIP: In some states, such as California, the defendant should follow through on their threats. In most cases, the plaintiff can’t claim quid pro quo harassment if the defendant doesn’t carry out the threats or do anything after being denied sexual favors. However, the plaintiff might be able to file for a hostile environment harassment case against the employer.
Is It Easy To Win a Quid Pro Quo Harassment Case?
It depends on the facts supporting your claim. In some cases, it can be challenging to prove that the sexual harassment occurred (i.e. because witnesses are unwilling to give statements due to fear of retaliation). It’s also important that your claim meets the legal definition of quid pro quo harassment.
While it’s not always easy to win a quid pro quo harassment case, that shouldn’t stop you from pursuing legal action against your harasser. Hiring a seasoned lawyer and contacting the EEOC can help you understand your legal rights and take the necessary steps to win the case.
What Does a Quid Pro Quo Harassment Victim Get If They Win Their Case?
As a victim of quid pro quo harassment, you might be entitled to compensatory damages to make up for your emotional distress as a result of the harassment. These include but are not limited to the following:
The money you receive after winning your case is compensation for any financial losses (e.g., bonuses, lost wages, paid leaves, and benefits) and emotional distress. Your employer (the defendant) might be obliged to give you back pay or front pay.
Back pay refers to the benefits, salary, or wages your employer withheld from you as a form of retaliation. On the other hand, front pay refers to the lost earnings you would’ve received if it hadn’t been for the hostile working environment, which might’ve forced you to quit your employment.
The amount of money you’ll receive will vary. According to federal law, the maximum amount of money you’ll receive for compensatory or punitive damages is $50,000 (for companies with 15–100 employees) or $100,000 (for companies with 101–200 employees).
If your employer was fully aware of the sexual harassment you experienced and failed to correct the situation, you could receive compensation for punitive damages. You’re eligible for compensation if you can prove your reputation has been damaged, suffered emotional distress due to the quid pro quo harassment, or incurred out-of-pocket expenses (e.g., bills for counseling sessions).
Reinstatement of Employment or Job Offer
Based on federal law, your employer should reinstate you or provide you with a new job offer. You could be eligible for this compensation if you were unfairly terminated or demoted due to sexual harassment.
However, this might not always be the best option for different reasons, such as a strained worker-employer relationship. If that’s the case, you could be entitled to receive front-pay compensation due to not being reinstated to your previous position.
Changes in Company Policy
The law in your state might require your employer to make the necessary improvements to the company’s sexual harassment policies. In addition, your employer might need to implement training programs that meet all U.S. federal and state requirements.
Keep in mind that each company has different ways of dealing with employees who commit sexual harassment. This could come in different forms, including counseling, suspension, termination, job or location transfer, or a verbal or written reprimand.
Final Thoughts on Quid Pro Quo Sexual Harassment
The specific outcome of every quid pro quo sexual harassment case will depend on several factors, including the facts of the case and the decision of the court or jury. However, regardless of the individual circumstances of a case, the ultimate goal is to work towards a fair resolution, obtain justice for the victim, and prevent future incidents of quid pro quo harassment in the workplace.
Workplace sexual harassment cases can be complex and stressful. To increase your chances of obtaining a favorable outcome for your quid pro quo harassment case, consider getting legal help from an experienced employment lawyer.