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Quid Pro Quo vs. Hostile Work Environment in a New Jersey Sexual Harassment Lawsuit

While most New Jersey employees understand that they do not have to submit to sexual harassment in the workplace, they are less confident in their ability to identify an act of sexual harassment. Some cases of sexual harassment may be straightforward, such as an employer or potential employer that adds inappropriate conditions to receiving job-related benefits or an employment relationship based on providing sexual favors. However, the protection against sexual harassment and gender-based discrimination covers a much broader scope of behavior and statements.

How are sexual harassment and gender discrimination defined under New Jersey law?

The Civil Rights Act of 1964, as well as state laws and agencies including the Department of Law & Public Safety, through its Division on Civil Rights, protect employees from sexual harassment. The United States Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) defines sexual harassment as any demand or request for sexual favors, offensive comment about one’s gender, unwelcome sexual advances, or physical or verbal harassment of a sexual nature (e.g., sexual innuendo).

Distinguishing quid pro quo from hostile work environment legal claims

The U.S. Supreme Court has distinguished two distinct types of sexual or gender-based claims that may be the basis for a sexual harassment lawsuit – quid pro quo and hostile work environment.

Quid Pro Quo Sexual Harassment. This type of sexual harassment refers to the most obvious behavior, where hiring, continued employment or benefits of employment (i.e., raises, promotions and job assignments) are predicated on the condition the employee acquiesces to sexual advances. This form of sexual harassment effectively amounts to blackmail because an employee’s position or benefits of employment are conditioned on providing sexual gratification to the employer, manager or supervisory personnel.

Hostile Work Environment. Claims of sexual harassment based on a hostile work environment cover a far broader range of conduct than quid pro quo sexual harassment lawsuits. These types of claims are based on offensive sexual or gender-based comments or actions. Examples of the type of conduct that may create a hostile work environment include:

  • Inappropriate or denigrating sexual jokes or comments
  • Unwelcome physical touching
  • Exposure to pornographic material
  • Verbal comments that are sexual in nature

While a hostile work environment claim against one employer may be based on actions and words by a supervisor, co-worker or even customer, the basis for the claim must be more than an isolated off-hand sexual joke or teasing comment. The behavior and/or comments that create a hostile work environment must be pervasive and extreme. If you are subjected to sexual harassment, the Bergen County sexual harassment attorneys at Deutsch Atkins & Kleinfeldt, P.C. provide zealous advocacy for the rights of employees who face sex and gender discrimination.

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Neil H. Deutsch

About Neil H. Deutsch has been practicing law for over 35 years and is known as a skilled negotiator in employment and discrimination law. He believes in a bottom-line approach of risk analysis and cost effectiveness for his clients. "Case evaluation is something we take seriously," says Mr. Deutsch who seeks top net dollar for…

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Bruce L. Atkins
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About Bruce L. Atkins is regarded as one of New Jersey’s premier practitioners of employment and civil litigation. He has been selected to the New Jersey Super Lawyers prestigious list every year since 2005.  This honor, bestowed upon a recipient by the votes of his peers, is a powerful nod to the skill Mr. Atkins…

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Adam J. Kleinfeldt

About Adam J. Kleinfeldt joined Deutsch Atkins & Kleinfeldt, P.C. in March of 2015.  He primarily represents individuals in employment litigations such as discrimination, retaliation, and whistle blowing matters.  He has extensive experience in all phases of the litigation process. Adam has obtained significant results for some of his clients, including a $525,000 jury verdict…

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Diane Englander Peyser

About Diane Englander Peyser joined Deutsch Atkins & Kleinfeldt, P.C. in September 2018 where she represents employees in wrongful termination, retaliation, harassment, and discrimination matters. Prior to joining Deutsch Atkins & Kleinfeldt, P.C., Diane represented clients in all aspects of employment law on behalf of employees involving unemployment appeals, claims of sexual harassment, LGBT discrimination,…

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Debra M. McGarvey

About Debra M. McGarvey joined Deutsch Atkins & Kleinfeldt, P.C. in December 2019. She has extensive experience defending employees and employers in state and federal court in employment litigation matters. She has represented clients on various issues arising out of the New Jersey Law Against Discrimination (NJLAD), the New Jersey Conscientious Employee Protection Act (CEPA),…

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