Quid Pro Quo Sexual Harassment Can Use the Carrot or the Stick

hostile work environment sexual harassment

You are probably familiar with the old analogy of someone using a carrot or a stick to induce another to do something. In the context of quid pro quo (this for that) sexual harassment, a harasser could use a “carrot” or a “stick” to threaten a victim.

For example, if a harasser uses a “carrot”, the harasser might say or imply to the victim that in exchange for a sexual favor, the victim would get a raise or promotion. If, on the other hand, the harasser uses a “stick”, the harasser might threaten the victim that if sexual favors were not provided, the victim would be fired or skipped over for promotion.

In a recent case, the California Supreme Court seems to have treated quid pro quo sexual harassment as though harassers only use the “stick” as opposed to the “carrot” approach. In a case where the harasser essentially asked for sex in exchange for a benefit to the victim, the Supreme Court said there was no quid pro quo harm because the harasser did not follow through with the threat. This analysis would apply if the harasser used the “stick” approach, but in the case decided by the Supreme Court, the harasser had used the “carrot” approach. It is implicit in the “carrot” approach that there are no apparent consequences other than that the victim does not get the carrot in the absence of providing the sexual favor.

Quid pro quo sexual harassment should rightfully include sexual harassment with the “carrot” approach as well as sexual harassment through the “stick” approach. Even though the harasser does not punish the victim in the “carrot” approach, a victim who is propositioned for sex at work in exchange for a benefit and refuses to provide sexual favors is precluded from the offered benefit. The Court’s failure to recognize the “carrot” approach may leave the victim without legal remedy. Oddly, an unwilling victim who submits to providing sexual favors would be a legal victim of sexual harassment whether or not that victim received the promised benefits from the harasser.

Quid Pro Quo Can Be Indirect