In the Workplace:

Sexual harassment in the workplace generally falls into two categories:
“quid pro quo” and “hostile work environment.” While these are discrete violations, a victim of workplace sexual harassment can often experience both types of discrimination, in a given situation.

Quid Pro Quo Discrimination

The term quid pro quo is Latin and means “this for that,” or a trade of one
thing for another. In the workplace, it is illegal for one co-worker to offer
anything (such as favorable treatment) or to threaten anything (such as
some adverse consequence) to a co-worker, in return for sex.

Quid pro quo cases involve an employee being confronted with an
employer’s sexual demands in the workplace, which are tied to threats or
inducements. This type of discrimination occurs when an employer
(typically a manager or supervisor) carries out a threat against an employee
who refused to engage in sexual conduct with the employer’s manager. An
example of quid pro quo discrimination could involve an employer making
sex a prerequisite to the employee receiving an employment benefit (i.e. a
raise or favorable assignment). This type of discrimination could also
involve an employer’s threats to terminate or punish the employee if he or
she does not engage in certain sexual activity.

An action for quid pro quo discrimination is available to any employee
whose employment was affected by the employer’s demands for sex.
Although the sexual demands are typically made by an individual manager,
the employee who was the subject of the threat can sue the employer.

In a situation where a supervisor has offered one employee an employment
advancement in exchange for sex, the other employees have a quid pro quo
discrimination case. Employees who were not offered employment
advances in exchange for sex, may also sue the employer –regardless of
whether they would have accepted the offer - because they have been
discriminated against.

Even an employee who accepts a manager’s offer in exchange for sex may
bring a claim against the company. The employer should not have put the
employee in a position where she had to decide whether to engage in
sexual conduct in order to advance in the workplace. However, the sexual
harassment must have been unwanted, and if the employee voluntarily
consented to the sexual conduct, there is no claim of harassment.

Hostile Work Environment Discrimination

Unlike, quid pro quo discrimination, hostile work environment cases do not
necessarily involve offers or threats of sexual favors from the employer.
Instead, this type of discrimination occurs when the comments or actions of
a supervisor or co-worker involve repeated and graphic sexual matters
which result in the workplace becoming a hostile environment for the

In order for conduct to constitute a sexually hostile work environment, it
must be sufficiently severe and pervasive to change the conditions of the
employee’s workplace. The conduct must be offensive both to an average
person as well as to the specific victim. The employee bringing the
harassment claim must have personally found the conduct offensive. For
instance, if two employees have a good time exchanging sexual jokes, it
would not be sexual harassment. If one employee found the topic and
comments made to be offensive, it would be sexual harassment, if that type
and frequency of comments would also be offensive to a typical employee.
Similarly, if two employees date and engage in consensual sex, this would not
be sexual harassment. If one of the two then wanted to terminate the
relationship, and the other used the unequal relative terms and conditions of
employment in the work place to further the relationship, this would be
sexual harassment.

Courts have found a broad range of conduct to be sexual harassment,
including: unwanted sexual advances, jokes, pictures, and touching. The
conduct, however, must be severe and frequent enough to alter the
conditions of the victim’s employment in order to be considered actionable
sexual harassment. The stray inappropriate remark or joke will not support a
claim of sexual harassment. Additionally, under hostile workplace
discrimination, a victim does not have to show an economic effect on his or
her employment.

The conduct at issue in a hostile work environment claim must also be
objectively offensive. If a reasonable person in the victim’s position would
have also been offended by the conduct, then it is considered objectively
offensive. This also means that if a particularly sensitive victim was
offended by certain conduct that a reasonable person would not be
offended by, it will be difficult for the victim to maintain a claim.

Damages in Workplace Sexual Harassment Cases

Victims of sexual harassment can recover for their lost wages, future lost
wages, emotional distress, punitive damages, and attorneys' fees.