College Employees Accused of Quid Pro Quo Harassment

The High Value of College or University Employment

College or university employment can make for a very good job. Professors, deans, and administrators generally work in clean, safe, comfortable, and attractive environments. The college or university setting can be the most serene and idyllic in town. Colleges and universities generally have the means and intention to provide employees with the furnishings, equipment, and other resources to do their jobs. Job security can also be greater in higher education. Instructors may have tenure or similar protection. Public schools generally provide all employees with some degree of due process around their employment interests. Even non-instructional staff may have a labor agreement's protection or equivalent rights. Teaching, or any other college employment, is a good gig if you can get it.

College and university employees may also have unique skills that do not necessarily translate to other employment. A literature or history professor with a weak back isn't going to lay pipe or erect steel if losing the teaching job. Faculty members often have strong skills only in academic research and teaching, not transferable technical, administrative, management, or production skills. The same can be true for deans and academic staff. Their peculiar academic knowledge won't necessarily transfer to business or other corporate and professional settings. For these and other reasons, college and university employees can have very substantial interests in keeping their jobs.

Why Employee Conduct Matters

Yet working in higher education is different from working in business, industry, construction, agriculture, or other trades and professions. Higher education doesn't make or sell goods, grow crops, or raise livestock. It doesn't heal the sick or care for the elderly. Higher education instead has the unique goal of molding adults for productive lives in varied communities and in those and other trades and professions. Higher education commits to changing students consistent with their goals and for their better.

Higher education's transformative goal makes the college or university employee's character and conduct all the more important. Scoundrels are not that effective at educating adults for productive lives and employment. Individuals of poor conduct and character may do great work in the construction industry or building roads. They don't serve so well in higher education. Scoundrels produce scoundrels, not solid citizens. Colleges and universities instead need sound employees of good character whose conduct will impress and inspire students to achieve their transformation goals.

Why Sexual Harassment Matters in Higher Education

Society has wisely decided that sexual harassment in employment and education is a harmful and corrupting evil. When Congress passed the Civil Rights Act of 1964, it made sex discrimination unlawful in both employment and education. Under the Act's Title VII, employers must not allow their employees to discriminate against one another based on sex. Under the Act's Title IX, colleges and universities must not allow sex discrimination to affect the student's educational benefit. Colleges and universities that allow their employees to discriminate against one another or against students based on sex run the risk of breaking federal anti-discrimination laws. They can lose their reputation and federal funding. They can also be civilly liable to pay damages to co-workers or students whom the discrimination harms. See the U.S. Department of Education's Office of Civil Rights' guidelines against sexual harassment.

Legal duties and civil liability are not the only reasons colleges and universities care about sexual harassment. Sexual harassment also matters in higher education because it poisons work relationships and educational environments. Sexual harassment between co-workers makes the workplace less collaborative and productive, and more strained. Sexual harassment between a supervisor and subordinate abuses the supervisor's power and undermines the subordinate's work. Sexual harassment of students distracts them from learning and burdens their emotions and concentration. The educational harms are well documented. Colleges and universities take sexual harassment very seriously both because of their legal duties and their inherent interests.

Why Sexual Harassment Charges Matter to Employees

If you are a college or university employee facing sexual harassment charges, then you, too, should take those charges very seriously. Your college or university is very likely to take swift and firm action investigating, determining, and addressing those charges. Employers cannot sweep sexual harassment allegations under the proverbial rug without risking greater liability and damages, and greater harm to individuals and institution. Your employer won't ignore the charges, and so you must not ignore the charges. Yet no matter how the employer responds, sexual harassment allegations against you can seriously undermine your reputation, job, and career. Those allegations can place everything on the line for you. If, for instance, you lose your job over sexual harassment allegations, then you may not be able to find another job in higher education again.

What Is Quid Pro Quo Sexual Harassment?

When federal and state laws prohibit sex discrimination, they are not just ensuring that men and women have equal rights to hiring, job security, pay, and other terms of employment. Title VII and equivalent state laws also prohibit sexual harassment that interferes with working conditions. Sexual harassment isn't refusing to hire a man or woman because of their sex. Sexual harassment is doing something toward the employee based on sex that burdens the employee's working conditions. The federal Equal Employment Opportunity Commissions summarizes sexual harassment's technical definition this way:

Harassment becomes unlawful where 1) enduring the offensive conduct becomes a condition of continued employment, or 2) the conduct is severe or pervasive enough to create a work environment that a reasonable person would consider intimidating, hostile, or abusive.

Sexual harassment comes in two general forms. The EEOC explains that the hostile environment form involves “offensive jokes, slurs, epithets or name calling, physical assaults or threats, intimidation, ridicule or mockery, insults or put-downs, offensive objects or pictures, and interference with work performance.” The second quid pro quo form, though, can be the more serious charge against a college or university employee. The Society for Human Resources Management summarizes quid pro quo's definition and harm this way:

Quid pro quo means “this for that.” In this context, it involves expressed or implied demands for sexual favors in exchange for some benefit (e.g., a promotion, pay increase) or to avoid some detriment (e.g., termination, demotion) in the workplace. Quid pro quo harassment is perpetrated by someone who is in a position of power or authority over another (e.g., manager or supervisor over a subordinate). A clear example of quid pro quo harassment would be a supervisor threatening to fire an employee if he or she does not have sex with the supervisor.

Examples of Quid Pro Quo Harassment in Higher Education

Examples of quid pro quo sexual harassment in higher education arise wherever one finds a power imbalance for the perpetrator to exploit. College quid pro quo cases thus focus on supervisor/subordinate relationships in employment or instructor/student relationships in education. For instance, a dean or a department chair who sexually propositions a faculty member with the benefit of a preferred assignment or promotion commits quid pro quo harassment. Similarly, a staff supervisor who sexually propositions a subordinate worker threatening a dismissal or demotion commits quid pro quo harassment. The forms of sexual proposition may vary, such as positive comments about appearance and an interest in sexual relations. But the comments must generally leave at least an implication that job consequences will follow if the propositioned employee does not comply.

On the educational side, the professor who sexually propositions a student with the enticement of a passing grade, higher grade, honor, or recommendation letter commits quid pro quo harassment. Similarly, the instructor who sexually propositions a student with the threat of a lower grade, withholding an academic approval, or with failure commits quid pro quo harassment. Again, the specific forms of sexual proposition may vary, such as sexual innuendo with suggestions of an interest in an intimate relationship. But the comments must generally leave at least a suggestion that academic consequences of some kind will follow if the propositioned student does not comply. With quid pro quo harassment, where the conduct occurs, on or off school premises, or when it occurs, around a school event or on one's own time, generally does not matter. The abuse of power is the point.

Quid Pro Quo Harassment Proceedings

When a college or university employee faces quid pro quo harassment allegations, the school is likely to proceed on two fronts, with two differing interests. Federal law requires colleges and universities receiving federal funding to have specific Title IX procedures in place to address sexual harassment charges involving students. Title IX procedures focus on protecting the putative student victim while ensuring a discrimination-free educational environment. Title IX procedures may not provide the accused employee with all the protection the employee desires. If your charge involves alleged conduct with or toward a student, then you will face a Title IX proceeding. Your defense will benefit greatly when you retain national academic defense attorney Joseph D. Lento and the Lento Law Firm.

Yet you and the school have more at stake than ensuring a discrimination-free educational environment. Your job is also at stake. Colleges and universities also have employment procedures that they follow when determining employee discipline. When the grounds for discipline involve alleged sexual harassment, those procedures must satisfy the school's Title VII responsibilities to address employment discrimination proactively. If your matter involves a co-worker's sexual harassment allegations against you, then you should expect to face an employment proceeding. Once again, your defense in that employment proceeding will benefit greatly from national academic defense attorney Joseph D. Lento's representation.

A college or university employee who faces either a student's sexual harassment charges or a co-worker's sexual harassment charges risks serious job sanctions. Those sanctions can include anything from a verbal warning to a written reprimand, mandated counseling or training, reduction in pay, demotion of position, paid or unpaid leaves of absence or suspension, and job termination. The unfortunate reality if a college or university employee is found responsible is that sanctions will generally be severe in nature and will often include termination. In addition to the short-term consequences, job termination can mean loss of pension and even loss of career. Finding another academic job after a job termination for sexual harassment would be from hard to impossible. If you face such charges, then you have plenty at stake to retain the premier representation of national academic defense attorney Joseph D. Lento.

Defenses to Charges of Quid Pro Quo Harassment

Any college or university employee charged with quid pro quo sexual harassment should know that a charge does not mean guilt. In the worst cases, complainants may manipulate charges. Students and co-workers come with their own problems and interests. They may know that a sexual harassment allegation, even a false allegation, could accomplish things for them, like a job promotion or passing grade. Administrators and officials who pursue sexual harassment investigations and charges can have their own agendas. The Duke lacrosse sexual assault scandal, which resulted in the dropping of all charges and disbarment of the prosecutor for mishandling those charges, is an example. The charges may be untrue. National academic defense attorney Joseph D. Lento's vigorous defense may prove the charges to be false, exaggerated, and unfair.

The college or university employee may have a consent defense even if the relationship involved intimacy. Generally, colleges and universities strongly discourage and expressly prohibit intimate relationships between employees and students, especially instructors and students during the instructional relationship. Many employers also discourage intimate relationships between co-workers, especially if the relationship is between a supervisor and subordinate where an abuse of power may come into play. Some employers give employees a safe harbor to voluntarily report supervisor/subordinate co-worker intimate relationships, in which case the employer documents consent. But proving that the relationship was entirely consensual and not influenced by an abuse of power can reduce if not always eliminate the impact of quid pro quo sexual harassment charges.

Retain Premier Defense Representation If Accused

College and university employees have so much at stake around quid pro quo sexual harassment charges that they need and deserve aggressive defense representation. The college or university will not generally provide independent representation. The school's lawyer will have the school's interest at stake, not the accused employee's interest. The school may even sacrifice the employee to preserve its reputation and relationships. Don't proceed without a skilled and experienced lawyer. Don't rely on the advice and counsel of others who have conflicts of interest or may not be sufficiently dedicated to the cause. Instead, retain national college and university defense attorney Joseph D. Lento and the Lento Law Firm for your defense. Call 888-535-3686 to schedule a consultation, or use the online service.

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If you, or your student, are facing any kind of disciplinary action, or other negative academic sanction, and are having feelings of uncertainty and anxiety for what the future may hold, contact our offices today, and let us help secure your academic career.

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