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What Is Quid Pro Quo Sexual Harassment?
(6 Common Types)

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Collen Clark Published by Collen Clark

Schmidt & Clark, LLP is not currently accepting these types of cases and has posted this content for information purposes only. We encourage you to seek a qualified attorney, if you feel you might have a case.

Quid pro quo sexual harassment is a form of workplace harassment that occurs when an individual in a position of power attempts to trade benefits for sexual favors. Our firm has handled hundreds of sexual harassment cases, and we will use our expertise to explain the nuances of quid pro quo sexual harassment in this article.

Summary of the Key Findings

  • Quid pro quo sexual harassment is an illegal violation of federal law.
  • It occurs when an individual in a position of power abuses their authority to request sexual favors.
  • If you have been the victim of quid pro quo harassment, speak with an experienced employment lawyer who can help you understand if you have a sexual harassment claim.

What Does Quid Pro Quo Mean?

A lawyer writing on a paper

Quid pro quo is a Latin phrase that means "this for that" or "something for something [1]."

It refers to an exchange where one transfer depends on another. In the workplace, it generally has to do with a perk or opportunity being given by a supervisor in return for something else.

In business, these advantages can include:

  • Job promotions
  • Raises and job titles
  • Bonuses and benefits
  • Better job assignments or opportunities
  • Access to otherwise unavailable information

What Is Sexual Harassment?

Sexual harassment is a type of discrimination that occurs when someone is subjected to unwelcome sexual advances, requests for sexual favors, or other verbal or physical conduct that could be deemed to be sexual [2].

This can also include the following when they are sexual in nature:

  • Posted displays of obscene materials
  • Inappropriate texts, phone calls, and emails
  • Language or catcalls
  • Facial expressions and hand gestures
  • Sexual jokes
  • Unwanted touching

This type of harassment can occur between members of the same sex or opposite sexes. Federal law and most state laws prohibit sexual harassment.

Related Article: Indecent Exposure Definition

What Makes Up Quid Pro Quo Sexual Harassment?

A man sensually holding a female coworker's shoulder

From the above information, we can see that quid pro quo harassment is a type of sexual harassment that occurs when certain job benefits are offered in exchange for a sexual favor.

It doesn't matter if the harassment is implicit or explicit. It also doesn't matter if the harassment is framed as a benefit for sexual favors rendered or as a threat for refusing sexual advances. Nor does it matter if the benefits occurred or not after the alleged conduct.

The critical factor is that there is an abuse of power in which someone with authority uses their position to coerce another person into sexual activity.

"It is unlawful to harass a person (an applicant or employee) because of that person's sex. Harassment can include "sexual harassment" or unwelcome sexual advances, requests for sexual favors, and other verbal or physical harassment of a sexual nature."
- U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission.

Legally, some specific elements need to be met to prove quid pro quo sexual harassment. These include the following elements:

  • The victim must be an employee of the company or an applicant for a job.
  • The harasser was a supervisor, employee, or agent of the company.
  • The harasser made requests for sexual favors or made unwanted sexual advances.
  • The harasser made known that submission to their requests was a condition for receiving job benefits or that refusal would result in an adverse employment action.
  • The claimant suffered some type of harm because of the conduct.
  • The harasser's conduct was a substantial factor in causing the harm.

You should report sexual harassment so that the alleged harasser’s sexual advances get placed on the record.

Related Articles:

See all related sexual abuse cases our lawyers have covered.


What are some examples of quid pro quo harassment?

  • A typical example of quid pro quo harassment is when an authority figure offers an employee a promotion in exchange for sexual activities.
  • Another example is when an employer threatens to fire an employee if they don't agree to sexual conduct.
  • A third is when a hiring decision is based on an applicant's acquiescence to sexual advances.

Can a victim file a lawsuit if they were never actually given the workplace benefit?

Yes, the claimant can still file a lawsuit even if they were never given the promised benefit. Also, if the sexual demand is related to employment decisions, the company can be held liable. This means the court can award punitive damages under the law.

What should I do if I am being sexually harassed?

If you are being harassed, you should document the alleged harasser’s conduct and report it to your employer. You may also want to file a claim with the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC).

You have a right to a workplace free of emotional distress because you rebuff a sexual advance. Thus, you should consult with an experienced plaintiff’s lawyer about the alleged conduct and determine if the direct wrongdoing of the alleged harasser can be used to prove negligence on the part of your employer.

What is unique about quid pro quo harassment that separates it from other types of harassment?

Quid pro quo harassment is unique in that it involves a direct exchange between the harasser and the victim, and there is typically a clear power differential between the two. 

How is quid pro quo harassment different from hostile work environment harassment?

A hostile work environment occurs when workplace sexual harassment is severe or pervasive enough to create a hostile or abusive work environment. It does not require an explicit or implicit threat for a job benefit. This is a way that a supervisor can maintain power over employees that does not require sex as compensation.

Stay Informed about Quid Pro Quo Sexual Harassment

Quid pro quo sexual harassment is a type of illegal behavior that you should not have to endure as an employee or job applicant.

Our experienced attorneys at Schmidt & Clark, LLP are here to answer any questions you may have about a quid pro quo sexual harassment claim in a confidential consultation. For further information about sexual harassment or sexual abuse, give us a call.