HomeLatest ThreadsGreatest ThreadsForums & GroupsMy SubscriptionsMy Posts
DU Home » Latest Threads » Forums & Groups » Main » General Discussion (Forum) » Iowa Supreme Court says i...
Introducing Discussionist: A new forum by the creators of DU

Sat Dec 22, 2012, 07:33 PM

Iowa Supreme Court says its OK for woman to be fired for being "irresistibly" attractive

An Iowa dentist was within his legal rights when he fired a longtime employee he found to be "irresistible" and a threat to his marriage, the State Supreme Court unanimously ruled.

The seven justices, all male, affirmed on Friday a lower court's decision in favor of Dr. James Knight, who terminated Melissa Nelson after employing her for 10 and a half years as a dental assistant.

"We do think the Iowa Supreme Court got it completely right," said Stuart Cochrane, an attorney for James Knight. "Our position has always been Mrs. Nelson was never terminated because of her gender, she was terminated because of concerns her behavior was not appropriate in the workplace. She's an attractive lady. Dr. Knight found her behavior and dress to be inappropriate."

The two never had a sexual relationship or sought one, according to court documents, however in the final year and a half of Nelson's employment, Knight began to make comments about her clothing being too tight or distracting.

"Dr. Knight acknowledges he once told Nelson that if she saw his pants bulging, she would know her clothing was too revealing," the justices wrote.


http://news.yahoo.com/court-irresistible-workers-fired-203924415--abc-news-topstories.html

28 replies, 2072 views

Reply to this thread

Back to top Alert abuse

Always highlight: 10 newest replies | Replies posted after I mark a forum
Replies to this discussion thread
Arrow 28 replies Author Time Post
Reply Iowa Supreme Court says its OK for woman to be fired for being "irresistibly" attractive (Original post)
davidn3600 Dec 2012 OP
jberryhill Dec 2012 #1
smirkymonkey Dec 2012 #2
renie408 Dec 2012 #3
ismnotwasm Dec 2012 #4
jberryhill Dec 2012 #7
renie408 Dec 2012 #9
jberryhill Dec 2012 #13
davidn3600 Dec 2012 #5
jberryhill Dec 2012 #6
JDPriestly Dec 2012 #8
smirkymonkey Dec 2012 #11
jberryhill Dec 2012 #14
caraher Dec 2012 #18
dsc Dec 2012 #20
uponit7771 Dec 2012 #27
PCIntern Dec 2012 #10
Honeycombe8 Dec 2012 #12
caraher Dec 2012 #17
Honeycombe8 Dec 2012 #19
caraher Dec 2012 #21
jberryhill Dec 2012 #22
caraher Dec 2012 #23
jberryhill Dec 2012 #24
caraher Dec 2012 #25
uponit7771 Dec 2012 #28
JDPriestly Dec 2012 #26
Logical Dec 2012 #15
caraher Dec 2012 #16

Response to davidn3600 (Original post)

Sat Dec 22, 2012, 07:36 PM

1. Full decision

http://www.iowacourts.gov/Supreme_Court/Recent_Opinions/20121221/11-1857.pdf

Nelson’s arguments warrant serious consideration, but we ultimately think a distinction exists between (1) an isolated employment decision based on personal relations (assuming no coercion or quid pro quo), even if the relations would not have existed if the employee had been of the opposite gender, and (2) a decision based on gender itself. In the former case, the decision is driven entirely by individual feelings and emotions regarding a specific person. Such a decision is not gender-based, nor is it based on factors that might be a proxy for gender.

Reply to this post

Back to top Alert abuse Link here Permalink


Response to davidn3600 (Original post)

Sat Dec 22, 2012, 07:56 PM

2. What bullshit!

Why don't we just make all women wear burkhas. After all, it's their fault for "tempting" men.

Reply to this post

Back to top Alert abuse Link here Permalink


Response to smirkymonkey (Reply #2)

Sat Dec 22, 2012, 08:10 PM

3. It mentions her behavior and dress.

Do we know anything about how she was dressing for work or behaving?

I need to see more information before I jump to the conclusion that the decision was an awful one. It looks bad at first glance, but without knowing specifics, how can you automatically assume they have it wrong?

There is a lot of room between a burkha and a too tight, too revealing dress.

Reply to this post

Back to top Alert abuse Link here Permalink


Response to renie408 (Reply #3)

Sat Dec 22, 2012, 08:15 PM

4. This.

"Dr. Knight acknowledges he once told Nelson that if she saw his pants bulging, she would know her clothing was too revealing," the justices wrote.

Reply to this post

Back to top Alert abuse Link here Permalink


Response to renie408 (Reply #3)

Sun Dec 23, 2012, 02:18 AM

7. It wasn't about how she dressed or him being attracted

The actual question is at the beginning of the decision:

"Can a male employer terminate a female employee because the
employer’s wife, due to no fault of the employee, is concerned about the nature of the relationship between the employer and the employee? This is the question we are required to answer today."

It was his wife who got upset that the two were texting each other on non-work matters.

Reply to this post

Back to top Alert abuse Link here Permalink


Response to jberryhill (Reply #7)

Sun Dec 23, 2012, 05:38 AM

9. OOOhhhhh....

Well, that is ...weird.

Why not just stop texting? I mean, on both sides. Why take it this far and why would either side let it get to court? You would think that reasonably intelligent people could figure something out other than this.

Reply to this post

Back to top Alert abuse Link here Permalink


Response to renie408 (Reply #9)

Sun Dec 23, 2012, 10:13 AM

13. She worked there too

She wanted her gone.

Reply to this post

Back to top Alert abuse Link here Permalink


Response to smirkymonkey (Reply #2)

Sun Dec 23, 2012, 12:17 AM

5. A lot of it had to do with the dentist's jealous wife too

She was jealous and didn't trust that he can stay faithful. So she demanded he fire her.

Reply to this post

Back to top Alert abuse Link here Permalink


Response to davidn3600 (Reply #5)

Sun Dec 23, 2012, 02:13 AM

6. That was the actual question before the court

The decision assumes, as a matter of fact, that he wasn't attracted to her, and that she didn't consider any of the communications to constitute harassment.

The actual question, which the court notes up front, was whether he could fire her because his wife demanded that he do so.

Reply to this post

Back to top Alert abuse Link here Permalink


Response to davidn3600 (Original post)

Sun Dec 23, 2012, 03:07 AM

8. After 10 1/2 years????

He and his wife decide this female employee is to irresistible to be trusted in the dentist's presence? There is more to this story than we are being told.

I think it is fine for the doctor to fire the lady for qualities that are related to her gender provided he pays her adequate damages and gives her excellent recommendations.

This story does not compute. I don't know what the true story is, but this one does not work for me at all.

This was one of the excuses given for not hiring women in the first place: women would distract the men in the workplace.

It's part of being a woman. I take it the doctor would not have fired a very goodlooking man who seemed provocative to women. The woman was irresistible because of her gender. It is gender discrimination.

Unless the facts are very, very different than presented in the article (and they may be), I hope this is overturned on appeal. Disgusting.

Reply to this post

Back to top Alert abuse Link here Permalink


Response to JDPriestly (Reply #8)

Sun Dec 23, 2012, 09:57 AM

11. Thank YOU! +1000

We all encounter attractive people at work. It's up to us to control ourselves, not to the other person (why is it always women?) to not be attractive?

I can understand having proper dress codes and such, but this just seems like blatant discrimination.

Reply to this post

Back to top Alert abuse Link here Permalink


Response to JDPriestly (Reply #8)

Sun Dec 23, 2012, 10:15 AM

14. "There is more to this story than we are being told"

No, there is more to the story which you are declining to read.

"I hope this is overturned on appeal."

Uhm.... never mind.

Reply to this post

Back to top Alert abuse Link here Permalink


Response to JDPriestly (Reply #8)

Sun Dec 23, 2012, 10:57 AM

18. Is one month's pay adequate damages?

That was the severance he provided.

I hope she landed a good job... It sounds like it would have been very much in his best interests to give her a glowing recommendation, because he probably did feel bad about firing her, describes her as her best assistant ever and, were he to lose a lawsuit, if she had a comparable job there would be comparatively less damage to compensate.

Edited to add: apparently she's been working as a waitress since

Reply to this post

Back to top Alert abuse Link here Permalink


Response to JDPriestly (Reply #8)

Sun Dec 23, 2012, 04:17 PM

20. maybe he would have fired the man

since his wife worked in the same office. That isn't to say this decision isn't a problem since presumedly the firing would have been upheld without regard to the wife working in the office.

Reply to this post

Back to top Alert abuse Link here Permalink


Response to JDPriestly (Reply #8)

Mon Dec 24, 2012, 03:29 PM

27. +1

Reply to this post

Back to top Alert abuse Link here Permalink


Response to davidn3600 (Original post)

Sun Dec 23, 2012, 06:39 AM

10. As a dentist, I am uniquely qualified at least here, to say

That first of all, we come into contact with dozens of attractive people all day. Th question I used to pose to my dental students during their clinical teaching was "which do you need more, the date or the career?" Because eventually, you were going to ruin the latter. Having sex or making comments even becomes habitual and eventually you're gonna get in real trouble: either licensure/legal issues or at the very least marital issues. It is grossly inappropriate to take advantage of the relationship with the patient no matter how willing he/she may be and it only takes one accusation to run your reputation and one finding of fault to destroy the career.

Most women would not be within three football fields distance from most dentists if they didn't require services, and those who prey upon their patients are likely doomed. Preying upon your employees is just as bad, and what I have told people is that propinquity propinks and that's what keeps employment attorneys in business and can destroy a practice and of course, a marriage.

And speaking as a pragmatic realist I also used to tell the student that there we a lot of women and men out there in the real world and the best bet would be to meet them in a social environment, impress him or her with the fact that you're a dentist, and see how it goes. Although I am no Clark Gable to say the least, I have had to turn down quite a few offers over the years,the frequency and number of which picked up after I married which goes to show you how nuts people are. The way I handle propositions is after she has made some statement, usually under her breath slightly, like, "I enjoy talking politics with you, we should meet outside the office" (this happened two weeks ago form an attractive, quite married lady)' I say, " I'm sorry ,what did you just say?" as though I hadn't quite heard it. The usual response is "Oh, nothing really." It is very flattering and I of course leave it at that.

Sometimes, the patient will ask the hygienist or assistant if I'm happily married, and she'll give me the heads up before I go into the room. Ducking bobbing and weaving like a prize fighter....that's my day. It is often said that being a dentist is,like being in the military...hours of routine with minutes of abject terror.

Reply to this post

Back to top Alert abuse Link here Permalink


Response to davidn3600 (Original post)

Sun Dec 23, 2012, 10:12 AM

12. Employers can fire you for any reason that's not against fed. discrimination laws.

And likewise, an employee can quit for any reason.

Most places have dress codes, and if you don't abide by the rules, you will be talked to or warned. Eventually you'll be fired, if you don't abide by the rules.

He didn't have an official dress code, which is what he should have had.

But if you have a boss who develops an attraction for you, I know from experience that that means trouble. If that isn't nipped in the bud, the employee will end up being fired, unless there's an affair and a marriage. If there's just an affair, the employee will probably still end up being fired.

I'm in my 50's now, and while I think I've held up over time ( ), I'm not at the age where men can't control themselves around me. But I used to be what you might call a babe, in my younger days. Even so, I didn't have much trouble with men at the office, even the leches. For that reason, I suspect it wasn't just her dress, but her behavior. I've always believed that you don't crap where you eat, so I was never one to be open to an office affair. My behavior and mannerisms and attitude reflected that. There's a way to act that men know you're not open to that, and you're not interested.

We women usually know what is appropriate office attire. But it's hard to get it right all the time, esp since men sometimes find things appealing that are well within the norm of office attire. And if you put on a few pounds, clothes are going to be tighter...you don't run out and buy a new wardrobe if you gain 8 pounds (and who could afford to?).

If he dresses too suggestively, the employee can't fire the boss. He's the reason the business exists in the first place! No boss, no company.

That's life. I can't believe she sued over that.

Reply to this post

Back to top Alert abuse Link here Permalink


Response to Honeycombe8 (Reply #12)

Sun Dec 23, 2012, 10:52 AM

17. And according to the court opinion, he had her put on a lab coat sometimes

A dress code might have helped more. Though I kind of doubt it... this just seems to be about a man who couldn't regulate his own behavior, a jealous wife and the woman who got caught in the middle. Once things started I don't think wrapping her up in different clothing was going to stop him from thinking about her that way...

Reply to this post

Back to top Alert abuse Link here Permalink


Response to caraher (Reply #17)

Sun Dec 23, 2012, 04:10 PM

19. Yeah. Also, the article didn't say how she responded to HIS email to her about orgasm....

What was her response? That would tell a lot. I'm wondering if there was flirtation going on, she was being coy at times, enjoying the attention. Maybe not, but her response to that email would tell a lot. I wonder if they had crossed an inappropriate line before, so his email was just more of the same. If so, the problem wasn't clothing.

I can tell you that I would be SHOCKED to get an email like that from one of my bosses. If I did....I don't know what I'd do. But I sure as heck would respond in some way, and not receptively.

And about my early days, I don't mean to imply that women are always to blame for unwanted attention. The situation I'm responding to has certain facts, and that's what I'm responding to.

I certainly did get SOME attention that was inappropriate (blatantly discriminatory and sexist) and that I didn't ask for or encourage. But I was very young & may have lead him to think certain things, without my knowing it, or....and this is more likely.....I was SO young that it was a matter of a man thinking I was naive and easy pickins'.

Reply to this post

Back to top Alert abuse Link here Permalink


Response to Honeycombe8 (Reply #19)

Sun Dec 23, 2012, 06:17 PM

21. I think it may be telling that they did not pursue the sexual harassment angle

I would think that email could have gone a long way toward establishing that he'd created a hostile work environment. Either her lawyers are idiots for not pursuing that, or there was enough evidence that she did not find his message troubling that they decided it wouldn't help. The dentist's wife alleges that the assistant did flirt with him (though whether this is true is disputable; the judges did not find it relevant), and the court in its decision says of the most questionable text message,

Nelson recalls that Dr. Knight once texted her to ask how often she experienced an orgasm. Nelson did not answer the text. However, Nelson does not remember ever telling Dr. Knight not to text her or telling him that she was offended.


I'm not sure whether or not he asked him to stop texting her or said she was offended is or should be relevant to whether such texts create a hostile work environment. Overall, it sounds like she was fairly content with how things were going, even as she disavowed any romantic interest in the guy.

Reply to this post

Back to top Alert abuse Link here Permalink


Response to caraher (Reply #21)

Sun Dec 23, 2012, 08:30 PM

22. According to the decision....

There's no indication that he was interested in her or that she was interested in him.

It was his wife who didn't like the two of them communicating with each other on anything not related to work, which sounds kind of weird for a small business. I mean, golly, people do develop ordinary social relationships.

Reply to this post

Back to top Alert abuse Link here Permalink


Response to jberryhill (Reply #22)

Sun Dec 23, 2012, 09:54 PM

23. Depends on how you interpret things

From the decision:

Nelson’s husband Steve phoned Dr. Knight after getting the news of his wife’s firing. Dr. Knight initially refused to talk to Steve Nelson, but later called back and invited him to meet at the office later that same evening. Once again, the pastor was present. In the meeting, Dr. Knight told Steve Nelson that Melissa Nelson had not done anything wrong or inappropriate and that she was the best dental assistant he ever had. However, Dr. Knight said he was worried he was getting too personally attached to her. Dr. Knight told Steve Nelson that nothing was going on but that he feared he would try to have an affair with her down the road if he did not fire her.


Now, it may be that's what his wife insisted he say... that's not terribly clear. Taken at face value, he sounds interested in her...

Reply to this post

Back to top Alert abuse Link here Permalink


Response to caraher (Reply #23)

Sun Dec 23, 2012, 11:17 PM

24. The pastor being there is pretty f-ing weird...

...no matter how you slice it.

These people are creepy.

Reply to this post

Back to top Alert abuse Link here Permalink


Response to jberryhill (Reply #24)

Mon Dec 24, 2012, 09:44 AM

25. Agreed

It seems like some strange power play - a message that, somehow, God is on the dentist's side, or something.

Reply to this post

Back to top Alert abuse Link here Permalink


Response to jberryhill (Reply #24)

Mon Dec 24, 2012, 03:30 PM

28. +1

Reply to this post

Back to top Alert abuse Link here Permalink


Response to caraher (Reply #21)

Mon Dec 24, 2012, 03:25 PM

26. Statute of limitations problem somehow? I'm not sure what that is for sexual harassment in Iowa?

Reply to this post

Back to top Alert abuse Link here Permalink


Response to davidn3600 (Original post)

Sun Dec 23, 2012, 10:36 AM

15. This is only saying it was not sexual discrimination. n-t

Reply to this post

Back to top Alert abuse Link here Permalink


Response to davidn3600 (Original post)

Sun Dec 23, 2012, 10:46 AM

16. The actual decision makes more sense than the Yahoo! take on it

If you read the decision (thanks, jberryhill, for the link!) you'll see that the court ruled on a fairly narrow question, and that question was not whether it was fair to his assistant to fire her. I don't think it was - and neither does the court:

The civil rights laws seek to insure that employees are treated the same regardless of their sex or other protected status. Yet even taking Nelson’s view of the facts, Dr. Knight’s unfair decision to terminate Nelson (while paying her a rather ungenerous one month’s severance) does not jeopardize that goal. This is illustrated by the fact that Dr. Knight hired a female replacement for Nelson. As the Platner court observed, “ ‘We do not believe that Title VII authorizes courts to declare unlawful every arbitrary and unfair employment decision.’ "


Essentially, to sustain a sex discrimination charge she would have needed to establish that the dentist generally discriminated against women in employment, and that was unsupportable. All evidence is that he fired her because of factors specific to their particular relationship, and not because of how he deals with women in general. But what if it were to happen again?

Nelson raises a legitimate concern about a slippery slope. What if Dr. Knight had fired several female employees because he was concerned about being attracted to them? Or what if Ms. Knight demanded out of jealousy that her spouse terminate the employment of several women? The short answer is that those would be different cases. If an employer repeatedly took adverse employment actions against persons of a particular gender because of alleged personal relationship issues, it might well be possible to infer that gender and not the relationship was a motivating factor.

Reply to this post

Back to top Alert abuse Link here Permalink

Reply to this thread