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What is “Quid Pro Quo”?

On Behalf of | Mar 7, 2023 | Harassment

The term “quid pro quo” is often used in contexts related to allegations of sexual harassment. But it can relate to other types of harassment or discriminatory action, as well. After all, the phrase simply means that there is a “reciprocal exchange” between two parties. One party provides something in exchange for the other.

Why is quid pro quo a problem in employment contexts? The answer to this question depends on what is being asked, of whom, in exchange for what and whether a power dynamic is in play within the situation in question.

How it can turn into sexual harassment

Consider a company wherein a female employee is applying for a promotion. Her male boss is in charge of deciding who should get the promotion or not, and he holds all of the power in this relationship.

The boss goes to the employee and tells her that she will be given the promotion in exchange for sexual favors or even some sort of intimate relationship between the two of them. He is attempting to barter with the promotion to get something that he wants out of it. He may also be doing this simply as a way to demonstrate his power, as sexual harassment cases are often more about power dynamics than they are about sex.

Quid pro quo scenarios are different than other types of sexual harassment or discrimination. For instance, if the female employee was simply denied the promotion and it went to a male employee, they might justifiably perceive that they are being discriminated against or held below a glass ceiling. But a quid pro quo situation is one in which the request for that reciprocal exchange has already been made, so it is much clearer to all involved exactly what is on the line.

Facing accusations

These types of accusations have to be taken seriously, even by company owners and executives who believe that the claims have no merit or who maintain that the situation being detailed never happened. If you or a member of your management team is facing those accusations, it’s important to learn about the legal options at your disposal and to seek legal guidance accordingly.