Have you ever heard of quid pro quo sexual harassment?
The U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission says it occurs where employment opportunities or benefits are granted because of an individual’s submission to the employer’s sexual advances or requests for sexual favors. In those situations, the employer may be liable for unlawful sex discrimination against other persons who were qualified for but were denied that employment opportunity or benefit.
Think of it as “Sleep with me, or you’re fired” or “Sleep with me, and you’re hired.”
But what if sexual favors aren’t explicitly demanded as a “quid pro quo” in return for job benefits? Is there such a thing as an implied claim?
For the answer, let’s check out this North Carolina federal opinion I read last night. It involves a woman who alleges that her boss met with her in a vacant office, locked the office door, grabbed her buttocks with both hands and touched her neck and head with his face. The plaintiff rebuffed the contact.
But, over the following months, the plaintiff alleged that her boss would repeatedly tell her she knew what he expected and that things would be fine if she did what he wanted. The plaintiff further alleged that her boss told her about a relationship with another subordinate he supervised and whose career he had helped advance. The plaintiff read between the lines and understood that agreeing to have an affair with her boss would help her career, while if she refused, he would not.
Ultimately, she alleged that her refusal of her boss’s sexual advances resulted in her termination.
Is this quid pro quo harassment?
The acceptance or rejection of the harassment can be an express or implied condition to the receipt of a job benefit or cause of a tangible job detriment to create liability. And the court concluded that the plaintiff had pled sufficient facts to state a claim because she reasonably perceived that her boss impliedly conditioned her continued employment or the furtherance of her career on accepting his advances.
Sexual harassment is scumbaggery. And quid pro quo harassment is at or near the bottom of the barrel — even without an explicit threat or promise.