Sexual harassment under Title VII is harassment that is sufficiently severe or pervasive to affect a term, condition, or privilege of employment. Harassment can meet this standard when a condition of employment is clearly tied to sex, also known as quid pro quo harassment. For example, if a supervisor uses expressed or implied threats to coerce a subordinate into agreeing to do something she does not want to do, such as having a sexual relationship, this may be an instance of quid pro quo harassment. Prior to the decisions in Faragher and Ellerth, quid pro quo demands were treated as a distinct variety of sexual harassment claim. Now these claims are handled as a subsection of hostile work environment claims.
In a hostile work environment claim, the violation under Title VII is the environment created by the instances of harassment. So, when a supervisor uses threats to fire or promises to promote in an effort to coerce a subordinate into agreeing to, for example, have a sexual relationship she would not otherwise want to have, that coercion may be sufficiently severe to affect a term, condition, or privilege of employment, creating a hostile work environment. Case law shows that such an incident is quid pro quo harassment even if there is no physical force used. Being subjected to the threat of retaliation unless you give in to the sexual demands of your supervisor is humiliating, and even if the victim refuses to engage in the behavior or the harasser does not act on the threat, the threat may be enough to constitute sexual harassment.
Our Birmingham, Alabama employment law firm has handled a number of sexual harassment cases throughout the State of Alabama. If you feel you may have suffered discrimination or harassment please contact us at (205) 588-0699 for a free consultation to discuss your potential case.