While the news media have covered many aspects of sexual harassment in recent years, one type of sexual harassment tends to go underreported: sexual favoritism. This type of behavior can affect the entire workforce at a company, even workers who were not directly subjected to sexual harassment themselves.
Sexual harassment generally
To be clear sexual harassment is a violation of federal law. In general, there are two types of sexual harassment. The first is known as quid pro quo, which means that a sexual favor is requested in exchange for an employment benefit. The other form is known as hostile environment or hostile workplace, which means that the unwanted sexual conduct created an intimidating, hostile or offensive working environment.
Sexual favoritism generally
In its basic form, sexual favoritism refers to all of those employees who were qualified but denied an employee benefit because another employee or employees submitted to the sexual advances or requests. This can be both quid pro quo and hostile workplace harassment.
Quid pro quo favoritism
If a Minnesota employee submits to unwelcome sexual requests for an employment benefit, other employees who were also qualified may have a case of quid pro quo favoritism. This is because sex was made a condition of receiving that employment benefit, but that condition was not imposed on different-sex employees.
Hostile environment favoritism
Similarly, if employees can show that the sexual favor requirement for employment benefits was so pervasive that it created a hostile work environment, then employees can likely sue. This would be true even if the sexual conduct was not directed at them and regardless of the gender of the victims.
The paramour exemption
Unfortunately, not all instances of sexual favoritism are illegal through what is colloquially known as the paramour exemption. Essentially, an isolated or one-off instance where a consensual romantic partner (the paramour) gains an employment benefit because of the sexual relationship. Courts have found that this is unfair to those who were qualified but did not receive the benefit. But, since men and women were both equally disadvantaged for reasons other than sex, then it does not qualify as illegal sexual favoritism.