The decisions issued by the Supreme Court in 1998 provided distinct definitions of sexual harassment in the workplace and were guided by two main types. The first type is called quid pro quo. Quid pro quo is Latin for “this for that,” and refers to situations in which an employer or supervisor uses job rewards such as promotions, raises, other incentives, or punishments such as demotions, to force a worker into a sexual relationship.
Workers do not have to suffer physical contact for quid pro quo harassment to exist; instead, they only need to have received a coercive offer. An example of this may be forcing a subordinate to engage in sexual acts in order to receive a promotion or a more favorable work assignment. A single incident of quid pro quo is sufficient to incite a lawsuit.
Recently, in a lawsuit against a television executive, an employee claimed there was a violation of the New York City Human Rights Law, New York City Administrative Code 8-107. The suit stated that the executive unlawfully retaliated against the employee and sabotaged their career because they refused his sexual advances and complained about severe and pervasive sexual harassment. During this time, the executive alluded to restoring the employee’s status at the television network in exchange for sex. The employee refused the sexual advances, and in retaliation for the employee’s complaints about discrimination and harassment, the executive terminated the employee. The employee was awarded a $20 million settlement and received a public apology.
The second type of sexual harassment involves a hostile work environment. This type is a little more subtle than quid pro quo since it can be the result of personal opinions and preferences. Some, but not all, recognized causes of a hostile work environment case are pornographic pictures, verbal abuse, unwanted physical contact, sexually explicit jokes, and demeaning remarks that are based on an employee’s gender.
It is also important to note that the environment must be characterized by a severe or consistent atmosphere of hostility, or by unwelcome working conditions that unreasonably interfere with work performance. Typically, to justify that a case has occurred, workers must prove that they have been subjected to repeated offenses. One offense usually will not spark a lawsuit. Furthermore, it is critical that a worker prove that the conduct was offensive, which is sometimes a very subjective claim.
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