Sexual harrasment

“Quid Pro Quo” Sexual Harassment The Law in California

As we navigate the complex landscape of modern employment law, it is crucial to address the issue of ‘quid pro quo’ sexual harassment, particularly in light of California’s stringent and evolving legal framework.

This specific form of harassment, which hinges on an abuse of power in the workplace, continues to be a pervasive problem, despite being explicitly outlawed under the state’s Fair Employment and Housing Act. By examining the nature of ‘quid pro quo’ harassment, its implications for both employees and employers and the legal avenues available for those affected, we can cultivate a comprehensive understanding of this issue.

Furthermore, a look at recent legislative changes, such as California Assembly Bill 9 and the Ending Forced Arbitration of Sexual Assault and Sexual Harassment Act, will shed light on how the legal landscape is adapting to better protect workers’ rights.

Stay with us, as we unpack these complex issues and their implications in the California workplace.

Defining ‘Quid Pro Quo’ Sexual Harassment

‘Quid Pro Quo’ sexual harassment is governed by the Fair Employment and Housing Act in California. It is defined as a situation where a supervisor, or someone in a position of authority, links sexual services to job benefits or the avoidance of negative job consequences. This type of harassment includes unwelcome advances and extends to promises of promotions, raises, or threats of demotion and termination.

The presence of a supervisor or an individual in a similar position of power is a crucial element. Only these individuals can commit quid pro quo sexual harassment as it requires authority over the victim. In order for a claim to be valid, the supervisor must act on the threat. This form of harassment is outlined under California Government Code 12940.

Job-Related Benefits and Threats

In the context of quid pro quo sexual harassment, job-related benefits and threats play a pivotal role, often manifesting as offers of promotions or pay raises, or conversely, threats of demotion, undesirable work assignments, or even termination. These actions, under California Government Code 12940, constitute a violation when employment benefits are traded for sexual favors.

Key to these allegations is the supervisor’s role, as their authority can influence the victim’s employment status. The Fair Employment and Housing Act in California stipulates that only supervisors or those in supervisory roles can commit quid pro quo sexual harassment.

It’s imperative for employees facing such threats to report promptly to senior supervisors or HR, and if necessary, seek legal assistance.

Identifying Perpetrators

To effectively address quid pro quo sexual harassment, it is crucial to accurately identify the perpetrators. These individuals are typically in supervisory roles with the power to influence the victim’s employment status. They use their position of authority to manipulate job-related benefits and threats, creating a hostile work environment.

Under the Fair Employment and Housing Act in California, only those in supervisory roles can commit quid pro quo sexual harassment. These individuals may promise promotions, raises, or favorable shifts, or threaten demotion or termination if their unwelcome advances are rejected.

Accurately identifying these perpetrators is the first step towards holding them accountable, preventing further harassment, and ensuring a safe and respectful workplace.

Steps for Harassed Employees

Navigating the aftermath of experiencing quid pro quo sexual harassment can be daunting for employees, yet there are specific steps they can take to protect their rights and seek justice.

  • Documentation: Maintain a detailed record of each incident, noting the date, time, location, people involved, and specifics of the occurrence.
  • Gather any available evidence such as emails, texts, or other tangible items.
  • Document any changes in job performance, duties, or responsibilities due to the harassment.

Reporting: Inform a supervisor, human resources, or union representative about the harassment.

  • File a complaint in writing and keep a copy for yourself.

Legal Action: Consult an attorney and consider filing a complaint with the California Department of Fair Employment and Housing (DFEH) or the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC).

Types of Workplace Hostility

Moving from individual experiences and responses to harassment, it is crucial to understand the broader environment in which such behaviors occur, specifically the various forms of workplace hostility.

This hostility can manifest in multiple forms such as bullying, intimidation, or discrimination based on protected characteristics like race, gender, or age. A hostile work environment is created when this behavior is pervasive, and severe, and creates an intimidating or offensive workplace.

This can include actions like derogatory comments, offensive jokes, or unwanted physical contact. When linked to job benefits or penalties, it escalates to quid pro quo sexual harassment. California law prohibits this hostility and provides avenues for victims to seek justice.

Key Legal References

In the context of quid pro quo sexual harassment in California, certain legislative provisions and court cases serve as significant legal references.

Legislative Provisions:

  • Fair Employment and Housing Act (FEHA) outlines the rights of employees and the obligations of employers.
  • California Government Code 12940 highlights unlawful employment practices.
  • California Assembly Bill 9 (2019) extended the statute of limitations for filing harassment claims.

Court Cases:

  • Holmes v. Petrovich Development Co. (2011) clarified the definition of a hostile work environment.
  • Mogilefsky v. Superior Court (1993) set precedents on employer liability.

Federal Laws:

  • Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 prohibits employment discrimination, including sexual harassment.
  • The Ending Forced Arbitration of Sexual Assault and Sexual Harassment Act of 2021 allows victims to bring disputes to courts.

Impact of Recent Legal Changes

Recent amendments to California’s sexual harassment laws have brought about vital changes in the legal landscape, impacting employees and employers alike.

Including the introduction of Assembly Bill 9 in 2019 and the Ending Forced Arbitration of Sexual Assault and Sexual Harassment Act of 2021, these amendments have significant implications.

Assembly Bill 9 extended the statute of limitations for filing harassment claims from one to three years. This grants victims more time to seek redress, facilitating a more thorough investigation process.

The Ending Forced Arbitration Act bans mandatory arbitration agreements for sexual harassment claims. This empowers victims to publicly litigate their claims in court, providing a more transparent and potentially fairer avenue for justice, and ultimately contributing to the deterrence of such behavior in workplaces.


In conclusion, quid pro quo sexual harassment is a complex issue, deeply ingrained in power dynamics within the workplace.

The law in California strictly prohibits such actions, providing robust legal procedures for affected employees.

With the recent changes in sexual misconduct laws, the legal landscape has further tightened.

Understanding this form of harassment, its implications, and the legal remedies available is crucial for promoting a safe and equitable work environment.

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