Most employees do not know that they do not have to be the actual victim of a “sexual harasser” to be harmed by sexual harassment. People who are not the target of sexual harassment but who work in environments where sex harassment is occurring can file “third party” and “bystander” harassment suits. These types of claims can be filed by men or women.

There are two types of third-party sexual harassment claims: “quid pro quo” or hostile environment.

“Quid pro quo” is a Latin phrase meaning “something for something” or “this for that”. In laymen’s terms this simply means “You scratch my back and I’ll scratch yours”. Quid pro quo sexual harassment is the most commonly known – in exchange for some sexual favor, an employee is given a benefit or boost in the workplace. How can this affect a third-party – someone other than the employee giving the “sexual favor”? Simple – when the employee who is not harassed loses a job benefit or opportunity to someone who is less qualified that submitted to the sexual harassment.

Here’s an example that really happened. The manager of a small and concentrated workgroup had a sexual affair with his subordinate and administrative assistant. The manager gave his “girlfriend” extra bonuses, time-off without using leave, flexible schedules, etc., that weren’t available to other administrative assistants in the office. Another administrative assistant realized that she was losing out on job opportunities and benefits (she was much more qualified than the paramour for the paramour’s job) because of the affair the boss was having; she realized that unless she slept with the boss, she wasn’t going to get ahead. This is a classic form of third-party “quid pro quo” sexual harassment.

The second type of third-party sexual harassment is “hostile environment”. Consider the same scenario above – if one employee who grants sexual favors is given preferential treatment, the motivation and work performance of other employees may be negatively affected. This is a tough case to prove – not because it doesn’t happen or there isn’t evidence of it, but because you will have to prove the harassment was “excessive, pervasive and opprobrious”. That means, essentially, that the harassment was severe enough that it would shock the conscience of the average person, it occurred over a significant period of time, and the negative effects were unmistakeable and long-lasting.

If you think you may be the victim of third-party or bystander sexual harassment – or the victim of any discrimination in the Federal workplace – contact the Law Offices of Eric L. Pine, PLLC, today to discuss your situation.

No post on this website is legal advice, is meant to be legal advice, and certainly does not serve as a substitute for legal advice. Information is power, and this information is not widely or easily accessible to Federal Employees. We are providing this information to give you, the federal employee, more information, more knowledge and more power about your MSPB appeal, EEO Complaint or OWCP claim. We are not providing you with legal advice by giving you access to this information.