University of Maryland

I  III


II. WHAT IT IS: SEXUAL HARASSMENT DEFINED

  • Sex harassment is a type of sex discrimination
  • Quid pro quo harassment
  • Hostile environment harassment

Sex harassment is a type of sex discrimination


The conduct may be sexual in nature. It may be non-sexual conduct which singles out a person for harassment because of gender. Sex harassment can occur between people of the same or different gender. It is not limited to males harassing females. Sex harassment may occur in a variety of relationships. It may occur among peers, such as co-workers and students. A harasser may be an outsider, such as a University contractor or internship sponsor. Especially injurious is harassment characterized by inequality of power, such as between a supervisor and a subordinate; senior faculty and junior faculty; faculty and students; and graduate teaching assistants and undergraduates.

Sexual harassment takes two forms. It occurs when conduct links academic or employment decisions to sex ("quid pro quo" harassment). It also may take the form of unwanted conduct directed towards a person because of gender ("hostile environment" harassment).

"Quid pro quo" harassment

"Quid pro" behavior involves express or implied demands for sexual favors in exchange for some benefit (a promotion, a raise, a good grade or recommendation) or to avoid some detriment (termination, demotion, a failing grade, denial of a fellowship) in the workplace or in the classroom. By definition, it can only be perpetrated by someone in a position of power over another. Because the University, as the employer, has given supervisory power to the harasser, one instance of "quid pro quo harassment" is enough to result in liability. This is true even if the University had no knowledge of the behavior.

Quid pro quo harassment may be as undisguised as a direct solicitation ("sleep with me or else..."). It may take the form of more oblique sexual propositions or dating invitations ("discuss your project over a glass of wine at my house,"). The law does not require a showing that the supervisor actually made good on his or her demands or insinuations to impose liability.

Hostile environment harassment

Sex harassment may also arise from unwanted conduct which is so severe or persistent that it creates an intimidating, hostile, or offensive educational or working environment. Conduct may be physical, verbal or nonverbal. For example, the following types of behavior may constitute harassment: touching; hugging; kissing; sexual remarks about a person's clothing, body or sexual relations; repeated requests for a date; conversations of a sexual nature or similar jokes and stories; the display of sexually explicit materials in the workplace; and the use of sexually explicit materials in the classroom which are without defensible educational purposes.


Copyright 2013 University of Maryland
Prepared by Office of the Provost and Office of Legal Affairs