Quid Pro Quo Sexual Harassment Claim Properly Dismissed; Alleged Invitation Did Not Constitute a “Sexual Advance”

In Reed v. Fortive Corporation et al, 2024 WL 1756110 (2d Cir. April 24, 2024), the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Second Circuit, inter alia, affirmed the dismissal of plaintiff’s claim of quid pro quo sexual harassment asserted under Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964.

From the decision:

To state a quid pro quo claim, [a plaintiff] must show a tangible employment action, i.e., that an explicit alteration in the terms or conditions of employment resulted from her refusal to submit to [a] sexual advance[ ]. Schiano v. Quality Payroll Sys., Inc., 445 F.3d 597, 604 (2d Cir. 2006) (cleaned up). Reed’s quid pro quo claim fails because she makes only “conclusory allegations of implied sexual advances.” Sutton v. Stony Brook Univ., No. 21-2055, 2022 WL 4479509, at *2 (2d Cir. Sept. 27, 2022) (summary order). Her description of McCauley’s conduct in August 2019 creates no more than “a sheer possibility that a defendant has acted unlawfully.” Vengalattore v. Cornell Univ., 36 F.4th 87, 102 (2d Cir. 2022) (quoting Iqbal, 556 U.S. at 678). Reed’s claim is based on a single incident in which McCauley allegedly invited her to see a corporate apartment on their way to lunch, asked her repeatedly to join him in the apartment’s bedroom, and then inquired over lunch whether she was married or had a boyfriend. The Amended Complaint contains no allegations of any sexual comments or physical contact, never alleges that McCauley engaged in any other sexual conduct towards Reed or anyone else, and makes no other allegations sufficient to support an inference that McCauley’s conduct was sexual. As the district court determined, these conclusory allegations do not satisfy Iqbal’s pleading standard. Reed has not plausibly alleged a sexual advance, and so she cannot plausibly show that any tangible employment action stemmed from her refusal to submit to such an advance.

The court further affirmed the dismissal of plaintiff’s retaliation claim, finding that “regardless of whether rejecting a sexual advance can ever count as opposing an unlawful employment practice, Reed has failed to allege adequately that she had a reasonable, good-faith belief that McCauley’s conduct violated the law or that her conduct constituted opposition to unlawful conduct.”

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