Women in Iowa might want to invest in a closet of muumuus this summer.
The Iowa Supreme Court reaffirmed its ruling Friday that a dentist who fired a female employee because she was an “irresistible attraction” acted legally.
James Knight fired his dental assistant Melissa Nelson because he feared they would have an affair. So did the dentist’s wife, Jeanne, who discovered text messages her husband and Nelson had exchanged and promptly called for the woman’s termination.
Two decades younger than the dentist, Nelson had maintained a good track record at the office over 10 years. Still, Knight fired her for wearing “distracting” and “too tight and revealing” clothing to work, ponying up the paltry sum of one month’s pay as severance. Nelson filed a discrimination suit and lost it for good at the state level this Friday.
“Coming to the same conclusion as it did in December, the all-male court found that bosses can fire employees they see as threats to their marriages, even if the subordinates have not engaged in flirtatious or other inappropriate behaviour. The court said such firings do not count as illegal sex discrimination because they are motivated by feelings, not gender,” wrote Ryan Foley at the Associated Press.
Paige Fiedler, Nelson’s attorney, accused the court of failing to grasp what gender bias even is: “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.”
“I think it is sending a message that men can do whatever they want in the work force,” Nelson, a wife and mother of two young children, told ABC News after an initial ruling in December.
She’s not the first woman facing the situation. In 2010, New York business banker Debrahlee Lorenzana claimed that she was fired because her male colleagues found her too physically distracting. (Lorenzana sued for wrongful dismissal after her employer claimed the issue was her work performance.) That case raised questions about corporate dress code policies, but also about whether employees complaining about the appearance of their co-workers might be engaging in a special breed of sexual harassment.
In Nelson’s case, her boss chronically remarked on her attractiveness, reportedly once telling her that “If she saw his pants bulging, she would know her clothing was too revealing.” On another occasion, Nelson claimed her employer inquired about the frequency of her orgasms in a text message.
Maybe Jeanne should look for a new husband, and Nelson a sexual harassment suit.