In Iowa, women can be lawfully fired for being so sexy, they make their boss contemplate an affair

Categories: Law, Sex
melissa nelson james knight rect.jpg
Knight (left) warned Nelson (right) that the sight of her was enough to give him a standing pants tent.
When is being totally sexy a bad thing? When it costs you your job, that's when.

Last Friday, the Iowa Supreme Court ruled that Fort Dodge dentist James Knight was within his rights when he fired a female dental assistant he viewed as an "irresistible attraction."

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Knight, 53, fired Melissa Nelson, 32, after his wife discovered texts he had sent her. One asked her "how often she experienced an orgasm," according to Yahoo.

Nelson, a married mother of two, worked for Knight for 10 years and says she never thought there was any chance their relationship would get physical.

"I was very surprised after working so many years side by side I didn't have any idea that [getting physical] would have crossed his mind," she said. Yet in early 2010, Knight fired her in the presence of a pastor, explaining that he viewed her as a "detriment" to his family, CNN reports.

More background comes courtesy of the Huffington Post:
melissa nelson.jpg
Knight thinks Nelson (pictured) is too hot to work for him.
[I]n the final months of her employment, [Knight] complained that [Nelson's] tight clothing was distracting, once telling her that if his pants were bulging that was a sign her clothes were too revealing, according to the opinion.

He also once allegedly remarked about her infrequent sex life by saying, "that's like having a Lamborghini in the garage and never driving it."

Knight and Nelson - both married with children - started exchanging text messages, mostly about personal matters, such as their families. Knight's wife, who also worked in the dental office, found out about the messages and demanded Nelson be fired. The Knights consulted with their pastor, who agreed that terminating Nelson was appropriate.

Knight fired Nelson and gave her one month's severance. He later told Nelson's husband that he worried he was getting too personally attached and feared he would eventually try to start an affair with her.
Nelson sued, alleging her termination was motivated by gender discrimination, but a district judge dismissed her suit. That ruling was upheld last week by the Iowa Supreme Court in a unanimous decision.

From CNN, here's some of the rationale behind the Supreme Court's ruling:
"The question we must answer is ... whether an employee who has not engaged in flirtatious conduct may be lawfully terminated simply because the boss views the employee as an irresistible attraction," Justice Edward M. Mansfield wrote for the all-male high court.

Such firings may not be fair, but they do not constitute unlawful discrimination under the Iowa Civil Rights Act, the decision read, siding with a lower court..."As we have indicated above, the issue before us is not whether a jury could find that Dr. Knight treated Nelson badly," read the high court's decision.

"We are asked to decide only if a genuine fact issue exists as to whether Dr. Knight engaged in unlawful gender discrimination when he fired Nelson at the request of his wife. For the reasons previously discussed, we believe this conduct did not amount to unlawful discrimination, and therefore we affirm the judgment of the district court."
Paige Fiedler, Nelson's lawyer, characterized the ruling as "appalling."

"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," Fiedler told the HuffPo. "If they get out of hand, then the women can be legally fired for it."

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56 comments
Kim Tee
Kim Tee

Sounds to me like she's got a strong case for sexual harassment. What a lame man that Dentist is. I hope his entire female staff and clientele bails on his nasty practice.

Jason McCain
Jason McCain

It would be me. Haha they love me at work and wouldn't do that because I and we are all professionals.

Stephanie Japs
Stephanie Japs

So you would not be upset if one of your male co-workers was fired by his female boss for being too sexy?

Lizzie White
Lizzie White

Quoted from a statement on the court summary: "Dr. Knight acknowledges he once told Nelson that if she saw his pants bulging, she would know her clothing was too revealing. On another occasion, Dr. Knight texted Nelson saying the shirt she had worn that day was too tight. After Nelson responded that she did not think he was being fair, Dr. Knight replied that it was a good thing Nelson did not wear tight pants too because then he would get it coming and going." I am jaw-droppingly shocked that HIS behavior wasn't considered out of line. Absolutely disgusting.

Sande Miller
Sande Miller

So Glad i don't live there.i would never have a Job hahahhaha

Jason McCain
Jason McCain

Women act the same way towards hot men. I work at a Hospital with mostly women married in fact do the same thing.

Hans Dykema
Hans Dykema

Won't that only affect about ten women anyway?

Allisen Waage
Allisen Waage

So many things wrong with this. But I'm pretty sure his marriage troubles go much deeper than his assistant being an attractive woman. Firing her is not going to stop him from having an affair. I hope his female patients find a new dentist.

Sara Harrison
Sara Harrison

But the men who are sizzling hot can still work there. I see. (???)

Jason McCain
Jason McCain

Your reading the City Onion Pages. I wouldn't give much credit to their editorials.

Mike Worcester
Mike Worcester

I found it amusing how the court had re-considered its previous decision of the same, trying to "clarify" its logic. It failed. Badly.

John Koger
John Koger

This is the first and only time (in my aged memory) this has happened...apparently these women are rare...

Jay Robertson
Jay Robertson

Makes you wish you were an Iowan, don't it? Now folks can stop calling Iowa a progressive state, once and for all. We're RED, dang it. Not blue. RED

damon65
damon65

well, that finally answers Nigel's question in Spinal Tap : "Whats wrong with being sexy?"

Amanda Archote
Amanda Archote

And men can too chauvinistic to be gainfully employed.

Tammy Faiola
Tammy Faiola

Seems a media twist to me. He can fire her for whatever he wanted. It's screwed up for sure, but it was not gender discrimination and I agree the courts shouldn't rule in that favor.

Talia TK Kay
Talia TK Kay

Are you kidding me? What a fucking joke. Right....just come to MN ladies!

Nick Twist
Nick Twist

How does one define "Sexy?" And wouldn't referring to someone as "Sexy" be a form of sexual harassment?

Nathan Goettsch
Nathan Goettsch

That's just fine. Sexy women, just come to Minnesota for work.

zomg12
zomg12

i live in iowa must leave #hatesiowa

S.E.Gregg
S.E.Gregg

We must do whatever is necessary to save our marriages.
If husbands and wives did what the Knights did, when there is a temptation to commit adultery,
there would be less unfaithfulness in marriage. We have to plan and develop strategies
in order to win the wrestling matches of temptation.(The Christian Olympics-chp.4, Planning Strategies, pgs.37-46)http://www.amazon.com/Christian-Olympics-Going-Gold-Crowns-ebook/dp/B007VVTSTU/

willnotsurvive
willnotsurvive

In order for a heterosexual male boss to fire an employee because they are "too hot" then what sex must that employee be? Any competent attorney can have this overturned fairly quickly, which it will.

Tucky Farrell
Tucky Farrell

When are men going to start thinking with their BRAINS? Besides, if she was texting, she was flirting.

Theresa Bruckner
Theresa Bruckner

I hate stories like this. I feel for this woman and I think it sucks very much that she was put into this position by her employer, but all this general public outrage and indignation is based upon flawed and incomplete understandings of the legal process and the appropriate aim of the court in this situation. Her employer isn't allowed to categorically refuse to employ all women, but that doesn't mean he's legally required to keep employing this specific woman. It just doesn't.

Theresa Bruckner
Theresa Bruckner

Sue Fransen Way: and the answer was yes. The claim brought before the court was that she was unlawfully fired because she is female; the court found that she was fired not because she is female, but because her boss decided to fire her based on his (and his wife's) feelings for her, and that that wasn't illegal. Is it screwed up? I think so. But it's not illegal. Your boss can fire you for wearing a blue shirt, or not wearing a blue shirt, or voting for Ron Paul, or liking that one Carly Rae Jepsen song, or being an avid square-dancer, or just because your boss is in a firey mood and you're the first employee s/he comes across in the morning. You can't fire (or refuse to hire) someone based on certain protected characteristics, like age or race or sex (usually), but beyond that you're pretty fair game. Whether you think that's right or wrong is a separate question from whether or not that's the law as it currently stands. Courts aren't here to decide moral rights and wrongs. They are here to interpret existing law.

Theresa Bruckner
Theresa Bruckner

Thanks, Nathan Conley with no profile picture. Again: the question was not whether it's morally right for her to be fired because her boss had the hots for her. The legal question was whether she was unlawfully fired because of her sex. The court ruled that she wasn't. If you want to disagree with that on legal grounds, go for it--you could definitely make valid arguments for a different ruling. But understand what the ruling said and what it did not say.

jakemenkus
jakemenkus

Rupar, you misrepresented this one.  The court didnt condone the conduct, they were simply forced to rule on a technicality, and if the prosecuting attorney would have done a better job, I'm betting they could have gotten a much better decision.  To start, I dont think you sue on the basis of gender discrimination, because that isn't the basis on which he fired her.  

Jeremy Christensen
Jeremy Christensen

she's not that sexy. dude musta been looking at her through the "ecstacy goggles".

MikeW
MikeW

I loved the line: "He later told Nelson's husband that he worried he was getting too
personally attached and feared he would eventually try to start an
affair
with her."   Because then if she said "No" and he fired her it would be
considered inappropriate.  But firing someone because he might(!) try
to start an affair?  Yeah, perfectly appropriate. 

Remind me again what planet I woke up on this morning? Oh, and I hope he loses patients over his neanderthal sensibilities.

Candi Olson
Candi Olson

still trying to find her irresistable.

Nathan Conley
Nathan Conley

Don't worry Theresa, you are safe from said discriminatory ruling.

Cory Garske
Cory Garske

I'm sure it doesn't happen much though, it is Iowa.

RBernardy
RBernardy

@citypages I would assume men can also be fired for being uncontrollably attractive...still looks like equal protection to me

Jeffdavis612
Jeffdavis612

@citypages to associate one sex is gonna cheat more than the other is idiotic. Ppl that choose to cheat have no self control.

Sue Fransen Way
Sue Fransen Way

Really Theresa? Then why is this in the Justice's ruling? ""The question we must answer is ... whether an employee who has not engaged in flirtatious conduct may be lawfully terminated simply because the boss views the employee as an irresistible attraction," Justice Edward M. Mansfield wrote for the all-male high court."

Harvey A. Andruss
Harvey A. Andruss

My reading, Ms. Buckner, is that the court linked the notions of sex and sex appeal and ruled in favor of the defendant in that he could still fire her if he felt like it, for too much sex (appeal). If she were a man, ripped, hot, he would not have been fired.

Wade Shores
Wade Shores

What year is this? Iowa dentist James Knight clearly needs to be avoided entirely, and the Iowa Supreme Court should take a long look in the mirror.

MinneapolisMang
MinneapolisMang

Just get her a burka! After all, we men have always had an terrible time resisting our urge to rape every woman around us.

I also think it's funny that he thought she'd automatically be interested in said affair.

You find her attractive. Deal with it, asshole.

Ly-Zhou Sherry
Ly-Zhou Sherry

Would this woman be the "sexy" one in question???? Wow. What standards are they using?

Evelyn Blum
Evelyn Blum

So your damned if you do or don't. Can't get the job if your not attractive in life and now you get fired for it too.

Theresa Bruckner
Theresa Bruckner

Now, if she'd wanted to bring a sexual harassment/hostile work environment claim, she very well might have had something, because it sounds like her boss was none too shy about letting her know what an epic internal struggle he was having with her irresistible hotness. That claim might have had a very different outcome.

Dan Zeug
Dan Zeug

random boner.... opps... your fired, and your fired, another Boner, well, front desk lady, youuuuurrrrrr F-I-R-E-D!!!

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