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Employer Liability for Quid Pro Quo Harassment

Employers face strict liability for harassment by managers.



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Company liability for sexual harassment depends on how the harassment is classified. In hostile work environment cases, liability may depend on whether the company was aware or could have learned of the harassment. Liability may also depend on the action taken by the company and on the identity of the harasser. In quid pro quo cases, the rules are more clear-cut.

NOTE This article discusses liabililty under fair employment laws. Liability may also exist under state tort laws.

You will recall that quid pro quo harassment can be accomplished only by those who have authority to affect your working conditions, typically, managers and supervisors acting under power given them by the company. This being the case, an employer is always responsible for quid pro quo harassment, even if it did not authorize the harassment, had no knowledge of it, or had a policy forbidding harassment. Because the supervisor or manager relies on his authority to obtain sexual favors, and this authority was granted by the employer, the employer will be responsible for his actions. Legally, this is called strict liability.

Quid Pro Quo Harassment Proved: Company Liable

Randall, a manager, and Felicia, his assistant work for Titan Corporation. Titan has a policy that prohibits sexual harassment. Randall takes Felicia out to dinner one night. At the restaurant, they discuss work-related matters, including Felicia's raise. Randall tells Felicia that she has no chance of getting the raise unless she accompanies him to a nearby hotel. If Felicia claims that she was the victim of quid pro quo harassment, Titan will be liable for Randall's acts. It can not defend itself by arguing:

  • that it was not aware of what Randall did,
  • that Randall's conduct took place off Titan's premises,
  • that his actions violated company policy, or
  • that his conduct, by its very nature, was outside the scope of his authority.

Quid Pro Quo Harassment Not Proved: Company Not Liable

  • Martin, an insurance agent, asks Barbara, a coworker, to have sex with him. If Martin has no supervisory power, Barbara would not have a valid quid pro quo claim because Martin has no authority to affect her working conditions.
  • A plaintiff's former manager demanded sex from her, but this happened several months after he had lost all authority over her. So, when she was placed on warning by her current manager, she could not claim quid pro quo sexual harassment based on the acts of her former manager.

SEXUAL HARASSMENT CLAIMS STEP-BY-STEP by Dale Callender. Copyright ) 1998 by Barron's Educational Series, Inc. Published by arrangement with Barron's Educational Series, Inc.

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