When someone at work comes on to you, it can be hard to know whether saying no will put your job at risk. Is it just a friendly offer, or is your promotion, seniority, or even you career on the line? Find out what quid pro quo sex discrimination looks like in today's workplace, so you know when and how to fight back.
In this blog post, I will describe several hypothetical examples of quid pro quo sex discrimination and explain how each may result in an employment discrimination claim. I will also explain the next steps you should take if you think your boss is holding your job hostage to sexual requests.
"Quid pro quo" is a Latin for "something for something" or "this for that." In the legal world, it means that you will get something only if you give something else. In the context of employment, quid pro quo sex discrimination happens when a boss, supervisor, or manager makes it clear that an employee will only get something (like a raise or promotion) in return for saying yes to a sexual demand. It can even apply when the "something" the employee receives is that he or she will not be fired, be reprimanded, or face other negative employment actions.
When it comes to Title VII and the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC), illegal sex discrimination or sexual harassment happens when rejection of unwanted sexual advances results in an adverse employment action. This can include being fired, demoted, passed over for promotion, or receiving negative evaluations, among other things. The trigger for these actions is usually the employee's refusal of sexual advances or requests for sexual favors.
Sometimes, the quid pro quo harassment is obvious. For example, let's say Ellen has been a 3rd shift stockroom employee for a grocery store for almost 1 year. At her annual review, her supervisor, Tony, says he will recommend she be promoted to shift manager if she will agree to certain sexual favors. Quid pro quo: If Ellen gives Tony sex, Tony will give Ellen a recommendation.
Perhaps more often, a supervisor's sexual advances are more subtle. For example, news reporter Gretchen Carlson recently sued her former employer, Fox News, claiming that Chairman Roger Ailes had made inappropriate sexual advances that amounted to quid pro quo sex discrimination. According to her complaint, Ailes told her: "I think you and I should have had a sexual relationship a long time ago and then you'd be good and better and I'd be good and better." He added "sometimes problems are easier to solve" that way. While Ailes' comments didn't overtly offer career advancement, the idea that "you'd be good and better" implied illegal quid pro quo sex discrimination.
Not every claim of quid pro quo sex discrimination happens in the workplace. Sometimes, the thing promised is academic achievement or accolades. For example, imagine that David was a freshman in college, struggling to get through a required history class. He asked his professor, a woman, for help during office hours. When he showed up to her office, the professor made advances on him, but he rejected them. The professor then got angry and told David to leave, refusing to provide the assistance unless he agreed to engage in sexual activity with her. By conditioning the tutoring on David's sexual willingness, the professor crossed the line into quid pro quo sex discrimination.
Quid pro quo isn't the only form of gender discrimination. Sometimes sexual harassment can take the form of a hostile work environment. But when promotions, employment, or even termination depends on the subordinate saying yes to sexual favors, the EEOC and civil judges are quick to find discrimination.
The challenge in many quid pro quo sex discrimination claims is proving they happened. If you have been improperly approached by a supervisor or superior, contact the employment discrimination attorneys at Eisenberg & Baum, LLP, today for a free consultation. We will help you gather the proof you will need to take back your job, and your dignity.