The Law of Sexual Harassment

Sexual harassment is a very popular case that has taken place ever since in the 1960s. As time goes by and with the law slowly changing, more cases of sexual harassment were acknowledged by the courts. There are two types of sexual harassment, namely quid pro quo and hostile work environment, and it has been a shared burden among the judges the difficulty in drawing a fine line between them. However, quid pro quo cases are harder to win because the criteria is very straightforward. That is why most cases are being passed as hostile work environment because this type has a broader scope. Sexual harassment cases vary in themselves. There is a case of a female employer harassing her male employee, a sexual harassment taking place without the knowledge of the employer, and a case where it is actually a no-case at all. Nevertheless, the discussion is still in the context to analyze the legal differences between quid pro quo and hostile work environment.
Sexual harassment has been fogging nearly every workplace across the U.S. It was already a problem happening in most companies one generation ago, but was not acknowledged to be one because the court treated such matters to be private and personal (Cloud, 1998). Now, sexual harassment cases have made its way to the law and something that most employers will never dare to meddle with. In this paper, I will examine the legal differences between two legal aspects of sexual harassment, quid pro quo and hostile work environment, by examining some several court cases as guidance. But before that, I would like to get into a little bit of the background of sexual harassment in the U.S.
Brief History of Sexual Harassment
Sexual harassment has been around ever since in the 1980s. However, its was not until 1986 did the Supreme Court finally rule that sexual harassment violated the prohibition against sex discrimination, despite the guidelines provided by EEOC in 1980 for sexual harassment to be categorized under sex discrimination This decision was resulted from Vinson vs. Meritor Savings Bank case, which I will go into deeper in later paragraphs. Nevertheless, this decision still did not give the clear guideline as to what constituted hostile work environment and what constituted quid pro quo, to be able for cases to be acknowledged as a sexual harassment case (Lee, 1995).
Quid Pro Quo
Quid pro quo simply means that if you give something that your boss wants from you, he/she will give you something in return, usually a promotion or a raise in your salary. Sometimes, it is also known as sexual extortion (Lee, 1995). For a case to be acknowledged as quid pro quo, the harasser has to be either the employer or in the management team. Not only that, if the harasser is in the management team, the owner of the company will be held liable even though he has no knowledge of the harassment (Blackwell, 1995).
Quid pro quo cases are very hard to be proven as one. A generation ago, not even the most obvious case of quid pro quo would be considered as one by many court judges. The reason behind this was because they felt that such matters were personal. It did not help the situation at all that at that time most of the judges were males (Cloud, 1998). However, the situation improved slowly in the 1960s. It was not until in 1977 that the U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia ruled that quid pro quo harassment is a form of sex discrimination. Even better, in the 1990s, George Bush signed a law that grants sexual harassment plaintiffs the right to jury trials and big-money damages (Cloud, 1998).
Nevertheless, despite the change, quid pro quo cases were still very difficult to win. For an instance, Mechelle Vinson, who worked as a teller at Meritor Savings Bank in the 1970s, was forced by her boss into having a sex relationship with him. She finally gave in, even though she was under a lot of pressure, even at work, where her boss would sometimes touch her sexually and there were occasions when he actually raped her. It was not long before she filed charges against her boss. However, the court did not