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What’s The Difference Between Quid Pro Quo And Hostile Work Environment Sexual Harassment?

Published By | Feb 25, 2022 | Employment Discrimination, Employment Law, Gender Discrimination, Sexual Harassment, Wrongful Termination |

Best Sex Harassment Attorneys Answers: Are there different types of claims for sexual harassment at work? What should I do if I was fired today because I told my manager that I would not have sex with him? What is my sexual harassment case worth?

Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 protects employees from facing sexual harassment in the workplace. There are typically two types of sexual harassment, quid pro quo sexual harassment and hostile work environment sexual harassment. The difference between the quid pro quo sexual and hostile work environment sexual harassment is not always clear. Neither the terms quid pro quo nor sexually hostile work environment appears anywhere in the statutory language of Title VII.

Black’s Law Dictionary defines quid pro quo to mean “something for something” and defines quid pro quo sexual harassment to mean: “Sexual harassment in which an employment decision is based on the satisfaction of a sexual demand. This type of harassment might occur, for example, if a boss fired or demoted an employee who refused to go on a date with the boss.” (Best Law Read: What Is Quid Pro Quo Sexual Harassment? My Boss Wants To Be My Sugar Daddy!; Can My Boss Fire Me If I Refuse His Sexual Advances? Help, I Need The Best Sex Harassment Lawyer In Ohio!).

Black’s Law Dictionary defines hostile-environment sexual harassment to mean: “Sexual harassment in which a work environment is created where an employee is subject to unwelcome verbal or physical sexual behavior that is either severe or pervasive. This type of harassment might occur, for example, if a group of coworkers repeatedly e-mailed pornographic pictures to a colleague who found the pictures offensive.” (Best Law Read: What Is A Hostile Work Environment?; Does Being Called The N-word Once Constitute a Hostile Work Environment?)

In Burlington Indus., Inc. v. Ellerth, 524 U.S. 742, 751, 118 S. Ct. 2257, 2264, 141 L. Ed. 2d 633 (1998), United States Supreme Court explained the difference:

A trier of fact could find in Slowik’s remarks numerous threats to retaliate against Ellerth if she denied some sexual liberties. The threats, however, were not carried out or fulfilled. Cases based on threats which are carried out are referred to often as quid pro quo cases, as distinct from bothersome attentions or sexual remarks that are sufficiently severe or pervasive to create a hostile work environment. The terms quid pro quo and hostile work environment are helpful, perhaps, in making a rough demarcation between cases in which threats are carried out and those where they are not or are absent altogether, but beyond this are of limited utility. …

We do not suggest the terms quid pro quo and hostile work environment are irrelevant to Title VII litigation. To the extent they illustrate the distinction between cases involving a threat which is carried out and offensive conduct in general, the terms are relevant when there is a threshold question whether a plaintiff can prove discrimination in violation of Title VII. When a plaintiff proves that a tangible employment action resulted from a refusal to submit to a supervisor’s sexual demands, he or she establishes that the employment decision itself constitutes a change in the terms and conditions of employment that is actionable under Title VII. For any sexual harassment preceding the employment decision to be actionable, however, the conduct must be severe or pervasive. Because Ellerth’s claim involves only unfulfilled threats, it should be categorized as a hostile work environment claim which requires a showing of severe or pervasive conduct. See Oncale v. Sundowner Offshore Services, Inc., 523 U.S. 75, 81, 118 S.Ct. 998, 1002–1003, 140 L.Ed.2d 201, (1998); Harris v. Forklift Systems, Inc., 510 U.S. 17, 21, 114 S.Ct. 367, 370, 126 L.Ed.2d 295 (1993). For purposes of this case, we accept the District Court’s finding that the alleged conduct was severe or pervasive. See supra, at 2262–2263. The case before us involves numerous alleged threats, and we express no opinion as to whether a single unfulfilled threat is sufficient to constitute discrimination in the terms or conditions of employment.

Got that? If your boss or supervisors, for example, makes your job or promotion conditioned on sexual favors but does not take an adverse employment action (such as firing you) against to you afterwards (whether you gave into the sexual demand or not), this is a hostile work environment claim. (Best Law Read: What Is An Adverse Employment Action?). On the other hand, if you manager or the owner of the company, for example, takes an adverse action against you after you refuse the sexual proposition, demand for oral sex, or the like, or cut of proving the sexual trade for job benefits, this would be quid pro quo sexual harassment.

If you don’t, I wouldn’t worry for several reasons. First, you should never be trying it out on your own. Of all of your options, that is definitely not the best. Employment law lawyers should always be helping you with pursing a claim for sexual harassment.

Second, I would argue that any proposition for any type of sex by a managerial level employee will always meet the severe or pervasive elements of a hostile work environment claim. Since the damages that are available are the same, does anyone really care what type of sexual harassment claim is brough as long as the bastard that engaged in the conduct is held accountable?

Third, the vast majority of working woman that come to our employment law attorneys for guidance have already been fired or otherwise separated from there job, even if it is through a constructive discharge. (Best Law Read: What Is A Constructive Discharge?). As such, quid pro quo sexual harassment is going to be used most of the time.

Fourth, even when there has been an adverse action for refusing to engage in a sexual trade for job benefits, creating a quid pro quo claim, chances are there was also other conduct that would also give rise to a hostile work environment claim. Stated differently, a boss, manager, or owner that demands sex usually does other sexually harassing things too.

Lastly, most attorneys and judges do not understand the difference either. As such, our attorneys recommended that both quid pro quo and sexually hostile work environment claims be asserted to that if a judge decides, rightly or wrongly, which claim is applicable to the fact, you have both ready to go.

Speaking of judges that know the laws of sexual harassment, I present you Judge Thomas Estes. Tammy Cagle, a clinical social worker filed two lawsuits, one against Judge Estes personally and one against the Court. In her Complaint, Cagle reported that Judge Estes used his position of authority to lure her into performing sex acts in his chambers when she was assigned to the Pittsfield Drug Court. Cagle first agreed to have sex with the then married judge during an out-of-town conference in November 2016 but told him that she regretted it and did not want to be involved in that way moving forward. Undaunted, Judge Estes continued to ask Cagle for oral sex in his chambers. Despite Cagle’s objections, Judge Estes continued to make the demand for four months and promised to help her get ahead at work. That did not happen. The sexual demands only stop when Cagle was transferred out of the Court.

So, is this best categorized as a sexually hostile work environment or quid pro quo sexual harassment? Even though the judge traded sexual favors for job benefits and security (a this for that trade), according to the United States Supreme Court’s decision in Ellerth, this is likely only a hostile work environment claim because no adverse employment actions were taken against Cagle.

Does it matter? Nope. The state trial court agreed to pay $425,000 to settle a lawsuit against it, and the lawsuit against the now former judge is still pending. In that suit, Estes is arguing that because she agreed to have sex, it was not sexual harassment. Wow, there is absolutely no law out there that would allow a boss to beat a sexual harassment claim because a subordinate gave into the pressure to have sex.

Sexual harassment is unlawful under Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 and similar Ohio laws. Sexual harassment is a form of gender discrimination. If you feel that you are being sexually harassed or are working in a sexually charged or hostile working environment, you should not wait to call the right attorney to schedule a free and confidential consultation. At Spitz, The Employee’s Law Firm, you will meet with a sexual harassment attorney/hostile work environment lawyer to find out what your legal rights are and the best way to protect them. Sexual harrassment is beyond wrong. It does not matter if you have been wrongfully fired or are still employed, there is no reason to wait to find out what your legal rights are and how to best protect yourself from sexual harassment and gender discrimination. Call our top attorneys in Cleveland, Columbus, Cincinnati, Youngstown, Toledo and Detroit.


The materials available at the top of this page and at this gender discrimination, wrongful termination, and sex harassment law website are for informational purposes only and not for the purpose of providing legal advice. If you are still asking “what should I do if my boss told me that I have to sleep with him to keep my job”, “I’m being sexually harassed at work by the owner of the company” “my supervisor conditioned my promotion on giving him a blowjob”, “my boss is touching me is a sexual way,” “I’ve been wrongfully terminated because I refuse to fuck my boss,” or “how do I find the best sex harrassment lawyer near me”, your best course is to contact an Ohio sexual harassment attorney/hostile work environment lawyer to obtain advice with respect to sexual harassment/hostile work environment questions or any particular employment law issue. Use and access to this employment law website or any of the links contained within the site do not create an attorney-client relationship. The legal opinions expressed at the top of this page or through this employment law website are the opinions of the individual lawyer and may not reflect the opinions of The Spitz Law Firm, Brian Spitz, or any individual attorney.

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