The court ruled that bosses have a right to fire employees they see as an “irresistible attraction,” even if the employees don’t act in flirtatious way.
Such firings may appear to be unfair, but the Iowa Civil Rights Act explains that they are simply motivated by feelings and emotions, not gender, Justice Edward Mansfield wrote.
“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,” Mansfield wrote for the all-male high court.
An attorney for Melissa Nelson, the fired employee, said she was not satisfied with the ruling.
“We are appalled by the court’s ruling and its failure to understand the nature of gender bias,” said Paige Fiedler, the attorney.
“For the seven men on the Iowa Supreme Court not to ‘get it’ is shocking and disheartening. It underscores the need for judges on the bench to be diverse in terms of their gender, race and life experiences.”
An attorney for the employer, on the contrary, said the decision, the first of its kind in Iowa, is a victory for family values because his client James Knight fired Melissa Nelson trying to save his marriage.
Nelson’s attorney insisted that Iowa’s all-male high court failed to recognize the discrimination that women see routinely in the workplace.
“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,” said attorney Paige Fiedler. “If they get out of hand, then the women can be legally fired for it.”
Nelson and Knight worked side by side for 10 years, and he considered her a stellar worker. However, in the final months of her employment things changes and the dentist complained that her tight clothing was distracting.
He later allegedly remarked about her infrequent sex life by saying, “that’s like having a Lamborghini in the garage and never driving it.”
During the last months of Nelson’s contract, the two, both married with children, started exchanging text messages outside of work. Neither objected to the texting.
Knight’s wife, later learned about those messages and demanded her husband fire Nelson.
When firing Nelson in early 2010, in the presence of a pastor, Knight explained to the woman that she had become a “detriment” to his family and that for the sakes of both their families, they should stop working together.
As CNN reports, in a subsequent conversation between Knight and Nelson’s husband, the employer sworn that the woman had done nothing wrong and that “she was the best dental assistant he ever had.”
Nelson filed a lawsuit, claiming that she was hired on the basis of the gender discrimination. However, she revealed that her employer did not committ sexual harassment.
In response, Knight argued that Nelson was fired because of the “nature of their relationship and the perceived threat” to his marriage, not because of her gender.
A district court sided with Knight; Nelson appealed.
“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.”