What is Sexual Harassment?

Unwelcome sexual advances, requests for sexual favors, and verbal or physical conduct of a sexual nature constitute sexual harassment when:

  • Submission to such conduct is a condition of employment, academic progress, or participation in a university program; or
  • Submission to or rejection of such conduct influences employment, academic or university program decisions; or
  • The conduct interferes with an employee’s work or a student’s academic career, or creates an intimidating, hostile or offensive work, learning, or program environment.

Quid Pro Quo (This for That) Sexual Harassment and Hostile Environment Sexual Harassment are both illegal and unacceptable. (see below)


Key Points About Sexual Harassment

  • Differences in power or status can be a significant component in sexual harassment. A person who seems to acquiesce to sexual conduct may still experience tangible action harassment or hostile environment harassment if the conduct is unwelcome.
  • Harassment can occur between can occur between members of different and similar genders.
  • Sexual harassment may or may not involve a tangible injury (e.g., economic loss, lowered grades). A sexually harassing environment, in and of itself, may constitute a harm.
  • Sexual harassment must be addressed and corrected regardless of the position or status of the harasser or the person being harassed.
  • Conduct is not always offensive or unwelcome to the same degree when perceived by different people. Courts use a “reasonable person” standard to determine whether contested behavior constitutes sexual harassment.
  • Individuals in positions of authority are responsible for ensuring that employees, students or others do not harass. In the workplace, offenders can be supervisors, co-workers, or non-employees such as vendors, customers and suppliers. In an academic or program setting, offenders can be faculty, instructors, lecturers, teaching assistants, coaches, tutors, or fellow students or program participants.
  • The person filing a sexual harassment charge does not have to be the person harassed but could be anyone significantly harmed by the harassing conduct.
  • Harassment does not have to be reported immediately, but a significant delay may be a factor in the evaluation of a complaint. A delayed report may result in a dismissal of the complaint.
  • Allegations involving classroom and teaching expression will be assessed using the university’s Discrimination Enforcement Procedures as it applies to academic speech.
  • Some behavior that is not in violation of university policy may, nonetheless, be unprofessional under the circumstances. Consequences of such unprofessional behavior may include poor performance evaluations or possible discipline.

Quid Pro Quo (This for That) Sexual Harassment

Quid Pro Quo Sexual Harassment occurs when employment or academic decisions resulting in a significant change in status are based on an employee or student’s submission to or rejection of unwelcome verbal or physical sexual conduct. Examples include:

  • Requiring sexual favors in exchange for hiring, a promotion, a raise, or a grade.
  • Disciplining, demoting or firing an employee because he or she ends a consensual relationship.
  • Refusing to write recommendations for a graduate student because the student refuses sexual advances.
  • Changing work or academic assignments because an employee or student refuses invitations for a date or other private, social meetings.

Hostile Environment Sexual Harassment

Hostile environment sexual harassment occurs when verbal, non-verbal and/or physical conduct is:

  • Sexual and/or based on sex, gender, gender identity or sexual orientation (actual or perceived).
  • Unwelcome, and
  • Sufficiently severe and pervasive to interfere with a person’s work/learning/program performance or to create a hostile, intimidating or offensive environment.

The determination is made on a case-by-case basis looking at the whole record, including the circumstances (such as the nature of the sexual advances) and the context in which the alleged incidents occurred.

Some behaviors which may be acceptable in certain contexts are inappropriate in the workplace or classroom, particularly if an objection is expressed. Whether or not the behavior is contrary to law or university policy depends upon the circumstances of each case.