In a unanimous ruling by the State Supreme Court, an Iowa dentist was deemed within his rights to fire his longtime employee. The dentist claimed his dental assistant was “irresistible” and it threatened his marriage.
The decision of a lower court decision was confirmed by seven justices, all male. The dental assistant, Melissa Nelson, had been employed by Dr. James Knight for 10 and a half years.
The attorney of Dr. Knight took the position that Mrs. Nelson wasn’t terminated because of her gender, but rather in regards to her inappropriate behavior in the workplace. Both her behavior and dress were considered inappropriate to Dr. Knight.
Throughout Mrs. Nelson’s employment, there was never a sexual relationship, but the final year and a half Dr. Knight found her clothing to be too tight and revealing. They also began exchanging text messages. Although Mrs. Nelson ignored a questionable text from Dr. Knight, Knight’s wife found the text message and demanded that he fire his assistant. A senior pastor at their church agreed that the termination was in their best interest to protect the marriage.
Nelson’s attorney, Paige Fiedler, said, “Although people act for a variety of reasons, it is very common for women to be targeted for discrimination because of their sexual attractiveness or supposed lack of sexual attractiveness. That is discrimination based on sex.”
Throughout court documents, Knight agreed that Nelson was good at her job and Nelson stated she was generally treated with respect. After being fired, Mrs. Nelson’s husband tried to reason with Dr. Knight. However, he told her husband that he “feared he would have an affair with her down the road if he did not fire her.”
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