Sexual Harassment

With the emergence of dual income households and a migration of females into the labor force, sexual harassment is an inflammatory topic a school district must confront to avoid devastating lawsuits. Failure to pro-actively confront this issue with adequate diversity training can lead to costly lawsuits for school districts, as well as a loss of teacher morale, decline in productivity and an erosion of the school districts public image. In short, sexual harassment creates a clear and present danger for a school district, regardless of their size or economic vitality.

Sexual harassment falls into three main categories:


Sexually degrading language

Referring to co-workers as babe or sweetheart

Telling offensive or racially insensitive jokes


Gestures made with sexual overtones

Displaying sexual cartoons

Physically touching or rubbing inappropriately



Playing footsie

Hugging or kissing

Educational entities must act quickly to head off the two main forms of sexual harassment: (1) quid pro quo, and (2) hostile work environment by proactively instituting diversity training programs.

Quid pro quo sexual harassment occurs when a job benefit is directly tied to an employee submitting to unwelcome advances. For example, quid pro quo occurs if an unruly administrator promises a raise or bonus to his secretary if she goes out on a date with him. In addition, quid pro quo occurs when an administrator threatens to fire a teacher if she doesn’t sleep with him. This can include changes to the teacher’s status by firing, failing to promote or causing a significant change in benefits for the teacher. However, the only employees subject to quid pro quo offenses are individuals in supervisory authority roles having direct authority to grant or withhold benefits to the employee in question. In an educational setting, these individuals would be top administrators, principals and assistant principals. When this type of conduct occurs, the individual has the right to take the supervisor and employer to court to face sexual harassment charges. Even when the alleged sexual harassment did not occur as a result of an employee, an organization can still be held liable if an agent acting for the company committed the alleged offense.

Hostile environment sexual harassment occurs when unwelcome sexual conduct unreasonably interferes with an individual’s job performance or creates a hostile or offensive work environment. A hostile environment is much different than incidents of quid pro quo because an individual does not necessarily have economic consequences leveled against them when sexual harassment occurs in the workplace. Some examples of a hostile environment include unwanted requests for sexual favors or offensive language toward a teacher. A single isolated incident will not be labeled as hostile environment sexual harassment unless the act was malicious or outrageous in nature. In addition, engaging in degrading physical sexual conduct with a co-worker or having sexually offensive photographs displayed in plain view may also be characterized as hostile environment sexual harassment. A school district can be held liable for a hostile environment if they had prior knowledge concerning sexual harassment incidents and failed to correct the situation in a timely manner.

What can you do about sexual harassment?

  • Speak up when the act is committed – tell the perpetrator to stop the offensive behavior.
  • Write a letter to communicate your concerns with the perpetrator. Include the following components:
  • Description of the unwelcome behavior
  • When the behavior occurred
  • Warning the perpetrator that if the offensive behavior does not stop, further action will be taken.
  • Your signature and date
  • Make a copy for your personal records

If these action fail to stop the offenses, seek assistance from the chain of command.