What is Quid Pro Quo in California?

what is quid pro quo

The phrase “quid pro quo” is Latin for “what for what” or “something for something.”

In common usage, quid pro quo refers to the giving of one thing of value in return for another thing of value.

Quid pro quo is a basic element of contract formation. 

Is quid pro quo illegal? It can be, depending on the position of the parties and the thing exchanged.

A quid pro quo is illegal when it involves an unlawful proposal made by someone with authority or someone who is in a position of trust. For example, every bribery or extortion charge involves a quid pro quo.

In addition, sexual harassment cases commonly involve an unlawful quid pro quo proposal.

Lawful Quid Pro Quo

As discussed above, the phrase “quid pro quo” does not always refer to unlawful conduct.

If I offer to sell my car to you for $1,000 and you agree to pay me $1,000 for the car, there’s a quid pro quo: I give you something—a car—and you give me something in exchange— $1,000.

There’s nothing inherently illegal in this situation; it’s just a basic contract between parties. But that is not always the case with quid pro quo arrangements.  


Bribery is defined as “the offering, soliciting, giving, or receiving of any item of value for the purpose of influencing someone.”

The law prohibits these types of quid pro quos when the individuals are public officials, witnesses, and certain private actors. 

California law defines bribery as “offering, giving or taking something of value, with corrupt intent, in order unlawfully to influence a person in any public or official capacity.”

Public officials falling under California bribery laws include:

  • Police officers,
  • Elected officials,
  • Members of school boards and city councils, and
  • Board members of a public corporation.

In California, bribery is a felony punishable by up to four years of incarceration.

Quid Pro Quo Harassment

In the employment context, quid pro quo harassment occurs when an employer ties a job or job benefit to the employee submitting to unwanted sexual advances.

Conduct might include unwanted back massages, dates, and sleeping together. Typically, harassers are the party with power.

One example might be a supervisor with the authority to terminate employment and withhold job benefits.

In California, the law governing workplace quid pro quo harassment is the Fair Employment and Housing Act (FEHA).  The elements for establishing a claim under the FEHA are

  • Unwelcome sexual conduct,
  • Sexual advances come from a superior, and
  • If the employee rejected said demands or proposal, a tangible negative employment-related consequence resulted.

Note that for a claim of quid pro quo harassment to succeed, the superior must actually have taken the threatened adverse action and done so as a result of the employee’s refusal.

 An Experienced California Quid Pro Quo Harassment Law Firm

While you generally have three years from the date of the incident to file a complaint with the California Department of Fair Housing and Employment, it’s imperative to contact an experienced California employment attorney as soon as possible to determine your options and best course forward.

At Starpoint Law, our clients are more than just numbers.

Whether it be negotiating a settlement or litigating your case before a jury, we pride ourselves on providing personalized attention and tailored solutions unique to your case. 

Author Photo

Aidin Ghavimi

Aidin is a partner at Starpoint LC, Attorneys at Law, and focuses on personal injury and employment law cases in and around Southern California. He earned his Juris Doctorate from the Loyola School of Law and his Bachelor’s from USC. Aidin’s primary goal is to bring justice to his clients and to ensure they are able to move on with their lives after a serious injury.

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