Over the years, there have been many harassment cases filed by an employee against their employer and even a reversal of roles. Whether it is gender or of a sexual nature, it usually is not a surprise to hear this going on in the workplace. However, a gender discrimination case in Iowa filed by a dentist’s assistant goes above the norm.
According to 32-year-old Melissa Nelson, she was fired by 53-year-old D.D.S. James Knight for her good looks. Though she was caught off guard being fired, she was completely surprised to hear that the Iowa Supreme Court ruled in favor of the dentist because Knight’s decision to fire her was due to Nelson being ‘irresistibly attractive’ and therefore became a “threat to his marriage” was totally legal.
Apparently in Iowa, it is not considered harassment or gender discrimination to fire someone for being too attractive. Nelson did not make any sexual or improper advances toward her older boss. In fact, for the ten years that she worked there, she was a loyal and dedicated assistant. Then one day, she suddenly was dismissed because Knight and his wife said Nelson was a potential threat to the health of their marriage. Knight gave her one month severance pay and Nelson decided to immediately file a gender discrimination lawsuit in Iowa court.
Though no allegations of sexual harassment were filed in the lawsuit, text messages were exchanged between the two (both are married with children) – Nelson supposedly viewed Knight as a father figure. Knight, on the other hand, had a different view and supposedly once complained that her tight clothing she wore were especially distracting. Supposedly, he remarked about Nelson’s lack of sex life by once saying, “That’s like having a Lamborghini in the garage and never driving it.”
Nelson continues to say that she was completely caught off-guard by the firing, apparently done by Knight’s wife. She also works in the office and made the final decision to dismiss her once she discovered the friendly text messages between the two. Not only did Knight agree with his wife but at one time, supposedly confided to Nelson’s husband that he was concerned that he was getting too personally attached to his attractive and young assistant; therefore, became extremely worried that he would try to elicit an affair with her. Nelson claims in her lawsuit that if she was a male, she would not have been terminated from her position.
The Iowa court, however, ruled in Knight’s decision to fire Nelson due to her “attractiveness threatened his marriage” as being legal. In a unanimous ruling, the justices felt that having an “irresistible attraction” is enough of a reason to dismiss a person. It has no bearing on the case if the person has not engaged in any kind of flirtatious or inappropriate behavior and wouldn’t consider touching an employee with a 10-foot pole.
The court decided that bosses can indeed let go their employees that they see as a dangerous “irresistible attraction,” even if the employees never engaged in inappropriate or flirtatious behavior. The Iowa court, led by Justice Edward Mansfield, even took into consideration that Knight had an all-female staff and that Nelson was eventually replaced by a woman. According to the Iowa Civil Rights Act, Knight’s actions were motivated by emotions and feelings and not gender; therefore, cannot be considered unlawful discrimination.
Nelson and her attorney, Paige Fielder, disagree strongly with the all-male high court’s judgment, insisting that many women have to cope with discrimination at work regardless of attractiveness. Fielder said, “These judges sent a message to Iowa women that they don’t think men can be held responsible for their sexual desires and that Iowa women are the ones who have to monitor and control their bosses’ sexual desires. If they get out of hand, then the women can be legally fired for it.”
Stuart Cochrane, Knight’s attorney, says that, “While there was really no fault on the part of Mrs. Nelson, it was just as clear the decision to terminate her was not related to the fact that she was a woman… The motives behind Dr. Knight terminating Mrs. Nelson were quite clear: He did so to preserve his marriage… I don’t view this as a decision that was either pro-women or opposed to women rights at all. In my view, this was a decision that followed the appropriate case law.”
Now that the state of Iowa has made this ruling, it is only a matter of time before a case like this happens in another state. Only then will women know in that state if they will be in danger of being fired because they are considered to be “too attractive.”
Boss fires assistant for being ‘irresistible’ – and court rules he’s right
A court in Iowa ruled in favor of dentist James Knight who fired his dental assistant for being “irresistible”. 32 year old Melissa Nelson a married mother has been working in the office for over 10 years when Knight gave her a month’s severance and fired her. Apparently, this happened after the dentist repeatedly asked her to wear looser fitting clothing and his wife got infuriated when she found out the two were exchanging text messages although they were described as merely work.
Melissa Nelson Dental Assistant Fired Because She Was ‘Too Attractive’
Melissa Nelson, 32, was sent the raunchy text by Iowa dentist James Knight around six months before she was sacked.
Documents from the Iowa Supreme Court show Knight had previously made inappropriate comments at work about his employee’s clothing being too tight or distracting.