What is quid pro quo sexual harassment?

In the early 2000s, landlord and property owner Dale Winter of Sioux City, Iowa, who previously had made sexual overtures toward tenant Jaymie Quigley, answered her question about getting back a rental deposit with the following action and words, according to the United States Court of Appeals, Eighth Circuit, written decision: He “fluttered his hand against Quigley’s stomach and said, ‘My eagle eyes have not seen everything yet.’” The court found that the jury could “reasonably infer Winter was telling Quigley the return of her deposit was conditioned upon Winter seeing more of Quigley’s body or even receiving a sexual favor, which would amount to ‘quid pro quo’ sexual harassment.”

This type of sexual harassment occurs in any number of situations where a person of authority offers or even simply implies that he/she will give someone something important in return for fulfillment of a sexual demand. Quid pro quo sexual harassment often occurs in the workplace, with important employment benefits conditioned upon sexual demands.

The Quigley vs. Winter case included additional related violations, which is not unusual in such cases: (1) hostile housing environment created by harassment; (2) coercionintimidation, or interference with housing rights; and (3) discriminatory housing practices. After an appeal in district court, the U.S. Court of Appeals delivered a decision that resulted in nearly $145,000 in damages, attorney fees and costs for Mr. Winters.

The written court decision includes interesting discussions of case law and evidence that could have supported a defense against Ms. Quigley’s accusations. In this case, according to the court, the evidence and case law did notsupport the defendant’s claims. However, the case provides a helpful demonstration of the complexities surrounding such a case.

What is quid pro quo sexual harassment?

“Quid pro quo” literally translates to “something for something” in Latin. In law, in addition to sexual harassment, the term is used to establish illegalities related to contracts, bribes and other “promises” of something in return for something happening or NOT happening.

When applying quid pro quo to sexual harassment, in addition to receiving something in return for sexual favors, it also can refer to something NOT happening, such as not getting fired or not reducing an academic grade.

In a workplace, quid pro quo sexual harassment may happen at the time of hiring, when a manager decides whether to hire someone based on whether they accept or reject sexual advances – or, in other words, threatens not to hire the person if she/he doesn’t agree to some sex-related activity.

How is quid pro quo sexual harassment proven?

Before going to court to seek civil damages, anyone who believes they have been the victim of quid pro quo harassment must first make an official complaint with a state or federal labor protection agency. Complaints made to the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission must be made within 180 days of the incident, but complaints are allowed even if the victim submits to the demands of the accused.

Once the case reaches the courts, certain elements of the case must be proven by the prosecuting attorney in order to make a successful claim. Defense attorneys seek to discredit the claims of the prosecution.

These are the aspects of the case that must be proven in an employment case:

  1. The plaintiff/claimant is an employee or was applying for a job with the company named as a defendant
  2. At the time of the incident in question, the accused was a supervisor or agent of the company
  3. A manager or other employee representing the company did indeed make unwanted advances, verbal or physical, toward the plaintiff
  4. Certain substantial conditions were attached to the advances made by the defendant, either verbally or implied by physical conduct
  5. The plaintiff was harmed in some way by the alleged incident
  6. The behavior of the supervisor or agent of the company was a substantial factor in the harm experienced by the plaintiff

In most legal cases, the plaintiff has the burden of proving some kind of behavior happened, but in quid pro quo cases courts often place the burden of proof on the organization to prove the behavior did NOT happen.

How do sexual harassment attorneys defend against quid pro quo claims?

It may seem unfair for the actions of an individual to result in a lawsuit against an organization. However, the premise of this is that the organization has a responsibility to create an environment where it is clear that managers, officers and other representatives of the organization should not engage in sexual harassment of any kind. Therefore, quid pro quo sexual harassment defense often entails employer liability and proving that an organization has taken reasonable appropriate actions to make this clear.

It may help the defense if the organization conducts an investigation of their own and fires a person who they believe has engaged in quid pro quo sexual harassment.

Another defense used against quid pro quo sexual harassment claims involves showing that the alleged advances toward the victim were not unwelcome. In a case against BNSF railroad, the court concluded that an employee who claimed quid pro quo sexual harassment actually welcomed and encouraged the sexual advances of a coworker who agreed to try to save her job if she had sex with him.

What are common penalties for quid pro quo sexual harassment?

When someone has experienced quid pro quo harassment, they may want the person who did it to be punished and prevented from doing it again with someone else. Punitive damages aren’t common, but courts have been known to award punitive damages in instances of especially atrocious violations of sexual harassment laws, in an attempt to discourage such behavior in the future.

It is more common for courts to call for compensatory damages to help victims recover losses such as lost work opportunities, lost wages or lost benefits – or even get a job back that was lost as a result of the quid pro quo harassment. In some cases, the court will award damages for emotional distress.

Every case is different, but the Quigley vs. Winter case demonstrates the way the checks and balance of the law protect even the person found guilty of a crime. The resolution of a quid pro quo sexual harassment case, as with most legal cases, can easily involve unexpected twists and turns that complicate the defense.

If you or someone you know has been accused of quid pro quo sexual harassmentcontact an experienced sexual harassment attorney, such as those at Berry Law, to navigate the complex issues surrounding your quid pro quo case and help ensure everyone’s rights are upheld, including the rights of the accused to a fair trial and reasonable penalties and damages.

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