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Quid Pro Quo Harassment: Know Your Rights and Options

In a quid pro quo situation, one person offers a favor or benefit to another with the expectation that they will receive something in return. Quid pro quo can be innocent in an educational setting, such as when a professor provides extra credit to students who volunteer their time to work at a nonprofit event. In many cases, however, quid pro quo arrangements are detrimental to students and can violate Title IX and school conduct codes.

All too often, students are offered a benefit or allowed to participate in a program only if they agree to submit to certain conduct. Quid pro quo harassment could be something as blatant as demanding sexual favors in exchange for a passing grade. It could also be something as subtle as only being allowed to continue working with a distinguished visiting professor if you put up with repeated sexist remarks and jokes.

Our school harassment attorney can work to protect the rights of students subjected to quid pro quo situations, and we can also defend staff and faculty facing allegations of quid pro quo harassment. Everyone involved in these situations needs to understand their rights and options for protecting those rights.

Recent Updates to the Law

The Department of Education’s Title IX Final Rule issued in 2020 defines any instance of quid pro quo harassment by a school employee as one of three forms of sexual harassment that violate Title IX. The Department considers any of these incidents to be sufficiently serious to deprive students of equal access to educational opportunities under the law, so a quid pro quo incident does not need to be evaluated to determine whether it was sufficiently severe, pervasive, or offensive to deny a student’s rights.

Understanding Quid Pro Quo Harassment

When a student or subordinate employee is subjected to a quid pro quo situation, they suffer harm regardless of their response to that situation. If they refuse to comply with a request or put up with unlawful harassment, they lose the promised benefit. If they comply, they have subjected themselves to an action that can cause a loss of self-esteem and other harm. Either way, they have been victimized. An experienced school harassment attorney can review the options for addressing the situation and obtaining appropriate remedies under Title IX or other procedures.

Quid pro quo conduct may be physical or purely verbal. Harassment can occur even if a professor or staff member merely implies that sexual favors will confer a benefit.

Moreover, the benefits might not necessarily be academic. For example, granting a student athlete the opportunity to play a particular position or casting a student in a role in a campus arts production could be benefits in an unlawful quid pro quo situation. If a faculty or staff member knows of a quid pro quo situation and refuses to take action to stop it, they may also be in violation of Title IX requirements.

Options for Relief

Colleges and universities are supposed to provide an environment where students are safe from sexual harassment. As part of their obligation to students, all schools must have procedures in place that enable students to safely report incidents of harassment without fear of retaliation. Students may approach the Title IX office or representatives on campus directly, or they may seek advice and guidance from a school harassment attorney about presenting evidence before proceeding with a complaint. An attorney can help ensure that measures are put in place to protect the student during the campus investigation.

If the school refuses to respond appropriately to allegations of quid pro quo violations, an attorney could file a complaint with the Department of Education’s Office of Civil Rights. In some situations, a civil lawsuit may also provide appropriate remedies. An experienced school harassment lawyer can evaluate the circumstances, investigate the incident, and review the options for relief in a particular case.

Defending Against Allegations of Quid Pro Quo Harassment

A school harassment attorney can also help those facing accusations of quid pro quo harassment. In many cases, they can assert that the quid pro quo harassment allegations were based on a misunderstanding. For example, a faculty or staff member accused of a quid pro quo violation could argue that they neither expressed nor implied any exchange of favors or required a student to put up with any form of unwelcome conduct.

A respondent might also explain why a student had an ulterior motive for alleging a quid pro quo violation. For example, if the parties were engaged in some type of sexual relationship, the faculty or staff member accused may be able to present evidence to show the relationship was consensual and not dependent on any form of benefit connected to the school.

Finally, those who are not agents or employees of the school are not supposed to be liable for quid pro quo harassment under Title IX. Accordingly, a student, even one providing tutoring services or other assistance, should not be subject to penalties under Title IX for a consensual sexual arrangement on the grounds that it constituted quid pro quo harassment.

Protect Your Rights in a Quid Pro Harassment Case with the Help of a School Harassment Attorney

Quid pro quo harassment can be more challenging to prove and more difficult to defend than other Title IX cases. Evidence may be scarce, and procedural rules may prohibit the introduction of certain forms of evidence because Title IX and other school disciplinary proceedings differ substantially from civil and criminal lawsuits in court.

Advice and assistance from an experienced school harassment attorney at Duffy Law can make all the difference in the outcome of your case, as well as your experience while the case is under investigation. We understand how to protect rights on campus, and we are passionate about obtaining fairness through the Title IX process. If you believe you are the victim of quid pro quo harassment on campus, or you could be facing accusations of a Title IX violation, contact Duffy Law today for a confidential consultation and case evaluation.  

Felice Duffy

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Attorney At Duffy Law

Attorney Felice Duffy served as an Assistant United States Attorney for ten years after beginning her legal career at two prestigious firms (one in CT and one in NY) and then clerking for two federal judges. A life-long Title IX advocate, she brought a legal action under the then-new Title IX statute against UCONN while an undergraduate to compel the creation of its women’s varsity soccer program. She went on to become a first-team Division I All-American, was selected to be on the first U.S. National Women’s Team, and spent 10 years as Head Coach of the Yale women's soccer team. Attorney Duffy has Ph.D. in Education/Sports Psychology and has spoken to, and conducted trainings for, over 50 schools and organizations on a wide range of topics involving athletics, the law, and social justice. You can reach Felice at (203) 946-2000.