Illinois: Sexual HarassmentPage 6 of 9

4. Types of Unlawful Harassment

Quid Pro Quo

Quid pro quo harassment (this for that, or something for something) generally arises when a tangible employment decision is based upon the employee’s acceptance or rejection of unwelcome sexual advances or requests for sexual favors. This kind of harassment is generally committed by someone who can effectively make or recommend formal employment decisions (such as termination, demotion, or denial of promotion) that will affect the victim. It is sexual harassment to make any part of a job (such as wages or promotions) conditional on a sexual or social relationship (Illinois Sexual Harassment Helpline, 2020). The two conditions that must be met are “something for something” and related to the workplace (DOL, 2012).

Quid pro quo harassment can be asserted when a supervisor:

  • Fires or denies promotion to a subordinate for refusing to be sexually cooperative
  • Offers preferential treatment or promotion if a subordinate sexually cooperates
  • Pressures an employee for sexual favors to avoid something negative such as a bad job assignment (DOL, 2012)

Hostile Work Environment

We worked with really beautiful models including these two twins. The executives were so vulgar about the twins—they wouldn’t leave them alone. The chief legal officer cornered a twin in the hallway and was reciting poetry to her. He had singled her out.

A woman at the company insisted that I report it to HR because she knew it would be the death of my career. I did not report it. HR departments—I never trust anyway. They’re the most gossip-y people in any organization. I talked to [the model] about it. She didn’t want it to be escalated in any way. She wants to keep her job as a model with the company.

Top-level Executive, 40+, Public Relations
Keplinger et al., 2019

A hostile environment can result from the unwelcome conduct of supervisors, co-workers, customers, contractors, or anyone else with whom the victim interacts on the job, and the unwelcome conduct renders the workplace atmosphere intimidating, hostile, or offensive (DOL, 2012). Examples of behaviors that may contribute to an unlawful hostile environment include:

  • Discussing sexual activities or telling off-color jokes concerning sex
  • Unnecessary touching or engaging in hostile physical conduct
  • Commenting on physical attributes or displaying sexually suggestive pictures
  • Using demeaning or inappropriate terms or epithets, using indecent gestures, or using crude language
  • Sabotaging the victim’s work (DOL, 2012)

Sexual harassment can also include . . . the display of sexually suggestive objects, signs, magazines, or pictures, or the sending of sexually suggestive emails or text messages to persons who do not want this attention” (IL Helpline, 2020).

Blurred Lines

I think it’s making them think twice when those issues are being brought up and what do they do about it—instead of just sending a guy to some sort of sensitivity training. Maybe we actually need to take a bolder step here.

Consultant, 30+, engineering
Keplinger et al., 2019

Although “quid pro quo” and “hostile environment” harassment are theoretically distinct claims, the line between the two is not always clear, and the two forms of harassment often occur together. For example, an employee’s tangible job conditions are affected when a sexually hostile work environment results in her discharge. Similarly, a supervisor who makes sexual advances toward a subordinate employee may communicate an implicit threat to adversely affect her job status if she does not comply (EEOC, 1990).

Hostile environment harassment may acquire characteristics of quid pro quo harassment if the offending supervisor abuses authority over employment decisions to force the victim to endure or participate in the sexual conduct. Sexual harassment may culminate in a retaliatory discharge if a victim tells the harasser or employer he or she will no longer submit to the harassment and is then fired in retaliation for this protest. Under these circumstances it would be appropriate to conclude that both harassment and retaliation are in violation of section 704(a) of Title VII (EEOC, 1990).