Successfully Pursuing a Federal Quid Pro Quo Sexual Harassment Case in New York

27 years ago, the box office blockbuster film Disclosure debuted in theaters. The Demi Moore-Michael Douglas film shone a light on a topic rarely highlighted in a big-budget Hollywood movie: workplace sexual harassment. All sexual harassment is a cancer upon the workplace, but quid pro quo sexual harassment, which was the type featured in Disclosure, is a particularly problematic thing. It places a worker under pressure to provide sex due to that party’s inferior power in the workplace (vis-a-vis the harasser) and the party’s fear of workplace reprisals (up to and including termination.) It is something no worker should have to tolerate and, if it happens to you, waste no time in taking action, including getting in touch with an experienced New York sexual harassment lawyer.

Of course, quid pro quo sexual harassment takes more forms than just what was described above. In some scenarios, the harasser, rather than threatening to punish a refusal, instead offers to use his power for your benefit if you provide sex. Offers like “I’ll make sure you get that promotion if you’ll agree to start dating me” or comments like “you could go far in this industry, and I can help make it happen if you would just ‘play ball’” are examples of this.

The recent case of an upstate New York bartender is a real-life illustration of that kind of alleged quid pro quo harassment. J.K., a bartender at a club in Hudson, sought out his supervisor to discuss possibly doing extra work and making “a little bit more money.” According to the lawsuit, the supervisor, who knew the bartender was gay, replied that he used to sleep with his manager to get the shifts he wanted. The man then allegedly asked J.K. if he wanted better shifts, whereupon he spun around in his swivel chair and turned toward the bartender with his legs spread open.

Not long after the bartender rebuffed the manager’s advances, J.K., who had consistently worked 4-6 shifts per week before, had his shifts “cut roughly in half and he was never assigned more than three shifts a week for the remainder of his” time at the club. By that April, the club fired J.K.

So, was this quid pro quo sexual harassment? Potentially yes. A prima facie case of sexual harassment in federal court entails the victim presenting “evidence that [he] was subject to unwelcome sexual conduct, and that [his] reaction to that conduct was then used as the basis for decisions affecting the compensation, terms, conditions or privileges of [his] employment.”

The Adverse Employment Action Doesn’t Have to Occur Immediately

The court’s decision denying summary judgment to the employer is a reminder that the alleged harassment and the adverse employment action in your case can be months apart and still make for a viable case. In J.K.’s situation, the proposition and the termination occurred somewhere around 5-7 months apart. On at least one previous occasion, the Second Circuit Court of Appeals, whose rulings directly control federal cases in New York, Connecticut, and Vermont, said that it was “particularly confident that five months is not too long to support [an allegation of a causal connection.]” So, despite the passing of several months, the “temporal connection” was close enough.

Of course, you’ll need more than a prima facie case. After the employer presents its purported legitimate reason, you’ll have to show why that stated reason was a mere pretext. One way that you may be able to strengthen your case of pretext is if your employer struggles to keep its stories straight. For example, in J.K.’s circumstance, the employer told the court that it fired the bartender due to complaints it received about him, but that same employer told the EEOC that it let J.K. go because of a “reduction in the overall business.” When an employer keeps shifting from one legitimate reason to another, that may make for powerful proof that all of those legitimate explanations are merely pretexts and that the real motivation was an illegal one.

Every worker wants to succeed or fail on his/her own merits, not because of who he/she did or did not date or sleep with. If you’ve experienced quid pro quo harassment at work, you owe it to yourself to reach out to the thoughtful and powerful New York City sexual harassment attorneys at Phillips & Associates. Whether you’re in Staten Island, the Bronx, Queens, Brooklyn, Manhattan, Westchester County, Nassau County, or Suffolk County, we’re here for you. Contact us online or at (866) 229-9441 today to set up a free and confidential consultation to find out how we can help you protect your rights.

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