Court Re-considers Case of Dental Assistant Fired for Being Too Attractive
Dental assistant Melissa Nelson is apparently, to paraphrase Right Said Fred, too sexy for her job. Nelson, 33, was a dental assistant in dentist James Knight’s Fort Dodge, Iowa office from 1999 to 2010 until she found herself suddenly and unexpectedly fired — essentially because Knight found her to be too attractive. She and the dentist were on friendly terms, even occasionally exchanging personal text messages outside of work, but as time went on, it became clear that he found her “irresistible,” even explaining to her that her tight-fitting outfits (which she claims were not unprofessional) made him aroused.
*UPDATE: On July 12, the court upheld Knight’s decision to fire Nelson. Original story follows:
By all accounts, she deflected his sexual innuendo, and the two, both of whom were married, never had an affair, but Knight feared the temptation to make a pass at her was too great, and when his wife found out they were texting each other, the couple made the decision to fire Nelson immediately. Basically, if he hadn’t already sexually harassed her (which is debatable), he was scared that he would sexually harass her in the future. To add insult to injury, he gave his loyal dental assistant just one month’s severance pay after more than 10 years of service.
Nelson sued for gender discrimination, saying she wouldn’t have been fired if she were a man, and the case made it all the way to the Iowa Supreme Court. Unfortunately for Nelson, the court found in the dentist’s favor in December of 2012, stating that the termination wasn’t due to her gender, but rather to her role in the relationship — and specifically because his wife was “concerned about the nature of the relationship between the employer and the employee.”
The unanimous ruling from the all-male court resulted in outrage from women’s groups and civil rights organizations and received national attention, including coverage on shows like Good Morning America and Tosh.0. Perhaps due to the hubbub, the Iowa Supreme Court this past month made the rare decision to withdraw its opinion and re-evaluate the case. Previously, only five cases had been reheard by the court over the past decade.
Chief Justice Mark Cady resubmitted Nelson’s lawsuit for reconsideration under the stipulation that it will be judged solely on previously submitted evidence and legal briefs. In other words, no new testimony, evidence or arguments will be allowed. A final ruling could occur at any time in the coming weeks.
(Sources: CNN, Good Morning America, Tosh.0, Des Moines Register)