Attorney has license suspended for quid pro quo sexual harassment

Posted in Quid Pro Quo,Sexual Harassment on June 13, 2014

We have previously written that most incidents of workplace sexual harassment fall broadly into two categories. The first, which we write about often, is known as “hostile work environment.” A harassment victim’s workplace becomes hostile because of a pattern of inappropriate comments, gestures, stares and unwanted touching (among other things).

The second type is called “quid pro quo” harassment, which is a Latin phrase meaning “this for that.” Employers who engage in quid pro quo essentially proposition or demand sex (or sexual favors) in exchange for either an employment-related benefit or to avoid a negative consequence related to employment. Quid pro quo is illegal, and perpetrators can face a lawsuit as well as professional consequences in certain cases.

Perhaps more than anyone else, attorneys should know that quid pro quo is against the law. Yet some still try to use sex as a condition of employment, as one Ohio attorney allegedly did. Recently, the Ohio Supreme Court suspended his license for a period of six months to a year.

According to news sources, the attorney hired a female law student to be a legal clerk. She quit just 12 days later. A disciplinary board subsequently learned that the attorney had demanded sexual favors from the young woman as a condition of employment. These demands were allegedly documented in a series of text messages between the two.

If the sexually explicit text messages had not risen to the level of quid pro quo, the attorney may have faced only a public reprimand. But after reviewing the text messages, the state Supreme Court determined that license suspension was a more appropriate punishment.

The Court issued strong words of condemnation in its written opinion, including: “Unwelcome sexual advances are unacceptable in the context of any employment, but they are particularly egregious when they are made by attorneys with the power to hire, supervise, and fire the recipient of those advances.”

As this case demonstrates, certain types of licensed professionals can face more than a lawsuit for committing sexual harassment. Their very livelihood can be threatened by the inappropriate choices they make. But if they knowingly and brazenly violate sexual harassment laws, they need to be prepared to face the consequences.

Source: WKYC, “Lake County: Attorney suspended for demanding sexual favors,” Bret Crow, June 12, 2014