The Iowa Supreme Court ruled today that employers can fire employees towards whom they have an "irresistible attraction," irrespective of the latter's workplace conduct.
The 7-0 decision, handed down by the all-male court, came about as a result of a lawsuit filed by married dental assistant Melissa Nelson, 32, against her boss of ten years, Dr. James Knight, D.D.S., alleging gender discrimination.
She claimed Knight fired her at the behest of his wife, who became jealous of their out-of-office relationship, which included the exchange of personal, yet innocuous texts.
Knight readily admits that he fired Nelson, whom he said was the best dental assistant he'd ever had, after consulting with his pastor, because he found her tight-fitting clothes distracting and he felt his marriage was in jeopardy.
According to court documents, Knight — described by his lawyer as "a very religious and moral individual" — once told Nelson the bulge in his pants was an indication that her clothes were too revealing. He also informed Nelson's husband that he had to fire Nelson out of fear that he might try and sleep with her.
Nelson said in her suit that she had no interest in having an affair with the 53-year-old Knight, whom she saw as a father figure.
Still, Justice Edward Mansfield, writing the court's opinion [pdf], concluded that no unlawful discrimination had taken place because Knight's actions were "motivated by feelings and emotions" and concern for his marriage rather than gender.
Nelson's attorney Paige Fiedler strongly disagrees.
"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 Associated Press. "If they get out of hand, then the women can be legally fired for it."
[photo via Shutterstock]