During some of the seminars that I teach on sexual harassment prevention, one of the topics that is covered is describing the difference between quid pro quo harassment and hostile work environment harassment.
On Wednesday, the Connecticut Appellate Court taught that same lesson in reviewing a case in which an employee (who lost a trial) claimed that certain jury instructions on quid pro quo harassment should have been given.
The case itself, Griffin v. Yankee Silversmith Ltd (officially released on July 8, 2008), won’t set the employment field ablaze like some other decisions this year. The facts resolve around an employee who claimed that her employment ended in retaliation for complaining about sexual harassment. On appeal, the employee claimed that the jury should have been told about quid pro quo harassment she endured and instructed on that subject, not simply on a "hostile work environment" theory.
The Appellate Court disagreed noting that the employee didn’t raise that issue in the Complaint and the evidence didn’t support such a claim of quid pro quo harassment.
In doing so, the court noted that quid pro quo harassment is just different from "hostile work environment" harassment:
Quid pro quo sexual harassment, as its name suggests, conditions employment on the return of sexual favors; hostile environment sexual harassment is conduct that ‘‘has the purpose or effect of unreasonably interfering with an individual’s work performance or creating an intimidating, hostile, or offensive working environment."
The court added that these distinctions are also found in Connecticut’s anti-harassment statute Conn. Gen. Stat. 46a-60(a)(8).
So what’s the takeaway from this case? I’ve been trying to think of something groundbreaking, but the fact is that there isn’t much to take away from a case like this.
For employees, it will be making sure a Complaint is plead correctly so that evidence can be submitted at trial to support a theory. For employers, it just emphasizes the fact that state courts are seeing more of these cases.
Ultimately, perhaps the best "lesson" from this case is to understand the difference in the types of harassment. For employers, this can also lead to a greater understanding about how to prevent it from occurring in the workplace.