Sexual Harassment and Quid Pro Quo

Baosheng Guo                                          05-09-2023



Editor’s note: A Manhattan jury has found that Trump sexually abused and defamed E. Jean Carroll, and awarded $5 million in damages Today (May 09, 2023). Carroll accused Trump of sexually assaulting her during a chance encounter at a Manhattan department store. He has denied her allegations, calling her a liar. Carroll sued him last year for battery and defamation. Trump found liable for sexual abuse of E. Jean Carroll, federal court ordered to pay $5M.




What is Sexual harassment? According to the definition of the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC):


It is unlawful to harass a person (an applicant or employee) because of that person’s sex. Harassment can include ‘sexual harassment’ or unwelcome sexual advances, requests for sexual favors, and other verbal or physical harassment of a sexual nature… Harassment is illegal when it is so frequent or severe that it creates a hostile or offensive work environment or when it results in an adverse employment decision (such as the victim being fired or demoted) (“Sexual Harassment”).


Although the definition of Sexual Harassment by EEOC is clear, the controversy about how sexual harassment could determine continue constantly. For instance, the well-known film “Oleanna” which focuses on the issue of sexual harassment on the university campus led to a massive argument, about whether Professor John sexually harassed student Carol or Caral sexually harassed even extorted John.  Someone thinks Professor John is innocent because he has not any physical action regarding the sexual molester and harassment of Carol. In fact, based on the “three tests” about sexual harassment of EEOC, which was suggested by Professor Catharine MacKinnon, Professor John has obviously violated the regulation about sexual harassment.


In 1980, the EEOC adopted three tests of sexual harassment by Professor MacKinnon: First, is it ‘quid pro quo’ behavior that makes submission to sex an implicit or explicit condition of advancement? Second, is it behavior that ‘unreasonably interferes with an individual’s job performance’? And third, is it behavior that creates an ‘intimidating, hostile, or offensive working environment’? (“Talking Dirty”).


In terms of the first test, Professor John clearly matches the definition of sexual harassment although he was only verbal and not physical.  “Quid pro quo” is a Latin phrase that means “something for something” and indicates situations where some powerful one asks someone who is relatively weak for sexual favors in exchange for something, and if not exchanged, punishes the weak one. In “Oleanna”, the student Carol discussed with the professor and asked him to improve her course grade, but John ultimately said to her, “I’ll make you a deal… Your final grade is an ‘A.’… Your grade for the whole term is an ‘A.’ If you will come back and meet with me. A few more times. Your grade’s an ‘A.’ Forget about the paper. You didn’t like it; you didn’t like writing it. It’s not important” (Oleanna 1:20).  Also, John said multiple times that the reason of make the deal is he likes Carol (Oleanna 1:20).  Professor John maybe had no intention to sexually harass Carol, but his words obviously mislead the audience including Carol to think he wants to make the deal that “grade A” exchange the female student stay with him in his office many times. Because John has the “grade A” power and advantage position in the relationship between teacher and student, and Carol only has a weak position, Carol is sensitive to these words about the deal. As a powerful man, John only thinks these words are common, but in Carol’s position, they are offensive and sexual harassment words.  As a result, the words “come back and meet with me a few more times” leads to sexual imagination, deepen the reasoning for “exchange”, and clarify the judgment about “quid pro quo”.


Especially, along with the rise of the Me-too movement and other feminist movements, females start to have high levels of self-wake and sensitivity about sexual harassment and “Quid pro quo”. And Carol, a female student, certainly has this sensitive self-awareness against sexual harassment and “Quid pro quo”. As the open letter regarding combating sexual harassment in the workplace announced by Hollywood Coalition:


To every woman employed in agriculture who has had to fend off unwanted sexual advances from her boss, every housekeeper who has tried to escape an assaultive guest, every janitor trapped nightly in a building with a predatory supervisor, every waitress grabbed by a customer, and expected to take it with a smile, every garment and factory worker forced to trade sexual acts for more shifts, every domestic worker or home health aide forcibly touched by a client, every immigrant woman silenced by the threat of her undocumented status being reported in retaliation for speaking up and to women in every industry who are subjected to indignities and offensive behavior that they are expected to tolerate in order to make a living: We stand with you. We support you (“Hollywood Coalition”)


Indeed, these above words disclose many kinds of “Quid pro quo” in the workplace. Actually, the university campus is very similar to the workplace in terms of the power structure, and the professors have some kind of power to “Quid pro quo”.


In addition, the action of “Quid pro quo” needs some physical evidence to prove the reality. In “Talking Dirty”, the author wrote, “Sexual harassment lawyers say that cases of verbal harassment where the woman cannot prove physical or psychological damage are rarely successful in court, even under the ‘hostile environment’ test” (“Talking Dirty”). However, except for verbal harassment, Professor John also left the witness, physical evidence and the “tangible way” of sexual harassment, which could lead to Carol would prevail in the courts. In “Oleanna”, at least two parts are full of witnesses and physical evidence. One is that many professors and students as witnesses see Carol escaping from the office of John and she cries, “LET ME GO. LET ME GO. LET ME GO. WOULD SOMEBODY HELP ME? WOULD SOMEBODY HELP ME? PLEASE…?” (Oleanna 2:37). The other one is that John ultimately grabs Carol and begins to beat her, he slaps her face multiple times, and he knocks her to the floor. The shattered window glass, the smashed teacup, and the bruises and blood on the two persons’ bodies are very strong physical evidence to prove this sexual harassment. This evidence and witness testimony will not only prove that the female student Carol suffered serious physical injuries, but also will definitely result in an unfavorable judgment for Professor John in court.


From the advantaged perspective of the powerful male professor, John could not be aware of the seriousness of his words and actions. Till he starts to reflect on himself, he and Carol both are hurt and victimized. In Fox New’s review Lies of Faux Victims Cast Doubt on Real Ones, the author argued, “Is a double standard being applied? If the same thing were to happen to a man, would it still be considered abuse? A quick test is to flip every sexual reference in an account from male to female and gauge your reaction” (McElroy). Although John is essentially a harasser, he was also hurt by Carol’s mistake, such as her no-end entanglement, and her false claim against John want to rape her, and so on. Finally, John lost his job, his house, and his reputation, so he is a victim too. He should learn the lesson from this significant incident in his life, at least, he should copy Mike Pence’s principle that he never stays alone with a woman except his wife (Cooney). In this era when the feminist movement is surging, males must be very careful to speaking and doing things with females.



Works Cited

Cooney, Samantha. “Vice President Pence Won’t Eat Alone With Any Woman But His Wife Karen.” Time, 29 Mar. 2017,

“Hollywood Coalition Launches Time’s Up.” 17 Dec. 2017. Issues & Controversies, Infobase,  Accessed 8 Dec. 2019.

McElroy, Wendy. “Lies of Faux Victims Cast Doubt on Real Ones.” Fox News – Breaking News Updates | Latest News Headlines | Photos & News Videos, 15 Jan. 2015,

“Oleanna Script – transcript from the screenplay and/or the.” Drew’s Script-O-Rama: free movie scripts and screenplays, baby!. N.p., n.d. Web. 17 Apr. 2013. <>.

“Talking Dirty.” The Aims of Argument: A Brief Rhetoric, 2nd ed., Mayfiled Publishing, pp. 418–421.

U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission. “Sexual Harassment.” US