This for That; a common understanding of what quid pro quo would mean. It is important to understand the implications of quid pro quo in the workplace with context to sexual harassment. Quid pro quo is a form of sexual harassment that has been prevalent for quite long however rightfully addressed in the recent times. It is usually is perpetrated by someone who is in a position of power or authority over another. An instance of quid pro quo sexual harassment would be; a supervisor requesting sexual favors as a condition for hiring, promotion, advancement, or opportunities. A person in a superior/higher position using their power over a person in a lower position than them by threatening to terminate, transfer, demote, or otherwise adversely affect an employee’s work life if sexual favors are not given or continued.
These complaints are observed to have been frequently made around the times of appraisals and (reviews?). This specific act of sexual harassment might evoke thoughts of promotion likely being the result of pleasing their supervisor/s in ways other than meritorious means. This might also provoke a sense of guilt amongst the subordinates for not having pleased their seniors or supervisors instead of raising complaints against such favors or conditions that might be inappropriate or carry sexual connotations.
The Sexual Harassment of Women At Workplace (Prevention, Prohibition And Redressal) Act, 2013 And Rules (“Law”) deals with this form of sexual harassment under section 3(2), which states that;
3. Prevention of sexual harassment.—
(2) The following circumstances, among other circumstances, if it occurs, or is present in relation to or connected with any act or behavior of sexual harassment may amount to sexual harassment:—
(i) implied or explicit promise of preferential treatment in her employment; or
(ii) implied or explicit threat of detrimental treatment in her employment ; or
(iii) implied or explicit threat about her present or future employment status;
Courts recognized the term “quid pro quo” as a form of gender-based discrimination or sexual harassment in 1976 in Williams vs. Saxbe in the U.S. District Court (Columbia). Further in 1980 guidelines were formed in the U.S under the laws enforced by EEOC (Equal Employment Opportunity Commission), stating that it is illegal to discriminate against someone (applicant or employee) basis the person’s race, color, religion, national origin, age, disability or genetic information. It is also illegal to retaliate against a person who may have filed a complaint about the discrimination or harassment meted out to them.
In 1986 in Meritor Savings Bank vs. Vinson (U. S. Supreme Court) the Court was successful in recognizing two categories of actionable sexual harassment under Title VII. Title VII prohibits discrimination at the workplace.
Moving into the arena of Indian case laws that speak of quid pro quo as a form of sexual harassment. In U.S. Verma and Ors. vs. National Commission for Women and Ors. (12.10.2009 – DELHC) the Court was of was of the opinion that harassers typically can take advantage of their position to obtain favors from female employees and threaten them with adverse consequences in the workplace if their wishes are unfulfilled;
Further in Ruchika Kedia vs. The Internal Complaints, Goa Institute of Management and Ors. (High Court of Bombay (Goa Bench)) – January, 2020, the Court noted that it is imperative that all the members of the institution, including students shall be made aware of their rights in relation to POSH and ICC and should also be made aware of various types of harassment including quid pro quo and hostile work environment. In addition to the above the Responsibilities of the Technical Institution were highlighted which included creating awareness about what constitutes sexual harassment including hostile environment harassment and quid pro quo harassment.
Understanding how power and authority enable abuse lies at the crux of understanding case of quid pro quo. Whether it is people, livelihoods or maintaining certain privileges or even basic human rights, all of them are leveraged by the abuser in a position of power. Therefore, it becomes imperative for institutions and people holding power to be accountable to a third party, like the Government. Making stricter laws sets the norm of what is acceptable behavior and what is not. It is the only tool to change the social reality which enables and propagates abuse and harassment.