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Firing Workers For Being Too Sexy Approved By Iowa Supreme Court

sexy-office-worker

In Iowa, women can be fired for being too sexy.

AP (“Iowa court: Bosses can fire ‘irresistible’ workers“):

A dentist acted legally when he fired an assistant that he found attractive simply because he and his wife viewed the woman as a threat to their marriage, the all-male Iowa Supreme Court ruled Friday.

The court ruled 7-0 that bosses can fire employees they see as an “irresistible attraction,” even if the employees have not engaged in flirtatious behavior or otherwise done anything wrong. Such firings may be unfair, but they are not unlawful discrimination under the Iowa Civil Rights Act because they are motivated by feelings and emotions, not gender, Justice Edward Mansfield wrote.

An attorney for Fort Dodge dentist James Knight said the decision, the first of its kind in Iowa, is a victory for family values because Knight fired Melissa Nelson in the interest of saving his marriage, not because she was a woman.

But Nelson’s attorney said Iowa’s all-male high court, one of only a handful in the nation, 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, 32, worked for Knight for 10 years, and he considered her a stellar worker. But in the final months of her employment, he complained that her tight clothing was distracting, once telling her that if his pants were bulging that was a sign her clothes were too revealing, according to the opinion.

He also once allegedly remarked about her infrequent sex life by saying, “that’s like having a Lamborghini in the garage and never driving it.”

Knight and Nelson — both married with children — started exchanging text messages, mostly about personal matters, such as their families. Knight’s wife, who also worked in the dental office, found out about the messages and demanded Nelson be fired. The Knights consulted with their pastor, who agreed that terminating Nelson was appropriate.

As weird and embarrassing as this case is, it’s a reasonable decision in the narrow case of a sole proprietorship. Should the boss be able to work with women he finds attractive and resist crossing boundaries of professionalism? Sure. But, if it’s his shop, he should have the right to remove the temptation.

This obviously becomes more problematic in a larger firm, especially when the supervisor isn’t also the owner. In those cases, asking for reassignments or just moving on to another firm are more appropriate solutions. But that’s unreasonable if it’s your firm.

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About James Joyner
James Joyner is the publisher of Outside the Beltway, an associate professor of security studies at the Marine Corps Command and Staff College, and a nonresident senior fellow at the Atlantic Council. He's a former Army officer and Desert Storm vet. He has a PhD in political science from The University of Alabama. Views expressed here are his own. Follow James on Twitter.

Comments

  1. Tsar Nicholas says:

    Meh. The entire concept here isn’t really controversial and it doesn’t really matter that it was a proprietorship.

    At will employment is at will employment. The woman here had the option of dressing less provocatively. Ultimately the boss has the option of replacing her with someone else. It wasn’t because she’s a woman. This isn’t a gender discrimination issue. It’s related to her looks, not to her gender. A small distinction that matters a great deal, legally. And once you start chipping away at the necessity of at will employment the negative ripple effects greatly outweigh the “leveling the playing field” rhapsody. If the situation were reversed — a guy who looks like Bradley Cooper distracting and vexing a female boss — the same result is warranted.

    Granted, in various corners of the Internet-academe complex this sort of thing will be greeted with high dudgeon mode. Guaranteed. But that’s merely a function of legal ignorance and of cloudy thinking. The ruling here was 100% correct.

    Poorly-rated. Helpful or Unhelpful: Thumb up 3 Thumb down 27

  2. Janis Gore says:

    I have to wonder if Dr. Knight has a, you know, recurrent problem ? The Mrs. seems quite on the ball and the steps taken seem so assured, as though they might have a little prior practice?

    Presumably, Mrs. Knight has firm control of the estate.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 9 Thumb down 0

  3. James Joyner says:

    @Tsar Nicholas: While employment-at-will is a baseline standard, most states recognize exceptions for public policy (43 states) and implied contract (38) and 11 recognize a covenant of good faith and fair dealing. Iowa recognizes the first two of these.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 2 Thumb down 1

  4. OzarkHillbilly says:

    @Tsar Nicholas:

    The woman here had the option of dressing less provocatively. Ultimately the boss has the option of replacing her with someone else. It wasn’t because she’s a woman. This isn’t a gender discrimination issue. It’s related to her looks, not to her gender. A small distinction that matters a great deal, legally.

    The woman here had the option of dressing less provocatively.Where have I heard that before? Oh yeah…. A rape trial.

    It wasn’t because she’s a woman. This isn’t a gender discrimination issue. It’s related to her looks, not to her gender.

    I wonder how many men have been fired because they were too good looking? I’m sure it happens all the time.

    Highly-rated. Helpful or Unhelpful: Thumb up 36 Thumb down 2

  5. PJ says:

    If only she had worn a burqa.

    Highly-rated. Helpful or Unhelpful: Thumb up 25 Thumb down 2

  6. liberal capitalist says:

    @Tsar Nicholas:

    The woman here had the option of dressing less provocatively.

    hmmm… maybe a burqa? or possibly just Mennonite style?

    Still, unless there was a strict dress code that applies to ALL employees at the time of hire, then dress is not an issue.

    From what I have seen in dentists offices, most follow a front office / back office attire: “Scrubs” for those involved medically, and “street” for those administrative.

    Assuming there was no cases of public nudity, then what would be the grounds?

    It wasn’t because she’s a woman.

    Hmmm… the court said it was an “irresistible attraction”.

    So, if it is NOT because she was a woman, are you suggesting that the dentist is pan-sexual?

    Do his unbridled desires swing all ways?

    Or… are you suggesting that she is a Succubus, and as such the dentist had no ability to resist. Based on that premise, then increasing the number of mirrors in the office could have resolved the issue, right?

    It’s related to her looks, not to her gender.

    If only some gross disfiguration had occurred to her which would have made her horrendously unattractive… then the dentists desire could have been managed.

    Possibly a solution would be the ritualistic mutilation of females in their first year that would make them unattractive, and by Iowa standard, employable.

    .

    Seriously. Do you even READ the stuff you write?

    If the Iowa court is correct, then any superior can fire an individual stating that their sexuality is “distracting and vexing”.

    “She’s too sexy for her job”… really?

    Prepare to have the Iowa ruling overturned.

    http://www.eeoc.gov/laws/types/sex.cfm

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 14 Thumb down 2

  7. michael reynolds says:

    This is why I’m self-employed and work alone. My mere presence in an office full of women can be disruptive. Some of us just have to pay the price.

    Highly-rated. Helpful or Unhelpful: Thumb up 24 Thumb down 1

  8. Mithras says:

    This is like saying, “I didn’t fire her for being a woman, I fired her because she got pregnant, and I found that incredibly annoying.”

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 14 Thumb down 1

  9. al-Ameda says:

    It’s performance review time, and I just can see it now: “Let’s see … record sales, 78% increase in our client base ….. honey, I’m sorry but, we have to let you go, you’re just too hot.”

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 2 Thumb down 1

  10. sam says:

    “A dentist acted legally when he fired an assistant that he found attractive simply because he and his wife viewed the woman as a threat to their marriage”

    The I-am-pussywhipped defense.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 7 Thumb down 0

  11. David says:

    Sorry, unless she had a huge make-over, he hired her knowing what she looked like. His wife saw her, and, just guessing, he has a history of playing around, she made his life a living hell until he fired the woman. And unless he has had to fire a guy for being too hot, it’s because she is a woman. It’s not her fault that he is an untrustworthy scum. And once again, the biggest threat to opposite sex marriages is opposite sex marriages.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 12 Thumb down 0

  12. Janis Gore says:

    Y’all:

    “Knight’s wife, who also worked in the dental office, found out about the messages and demanded Nelson be fired. ”

    Mr. Dentist was in an iron grip. And Mrs. Nelson was sending compromising text messages to her boss.

    Mama wasn’t happy.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 2 Thumb down 0

  13. CSK says:

    A good-looking woman with a great figure is going to be “provocative” in a sweatshirt and sweatpants. She worked for the dentist for ten years, and suddenly, in the last few months of her employment, he gets an erection just looking at her? Presumably she dressed the way she always did. What would dampen his ardor? A suit of armor?

    What about young, hot female patients? Does he turn them away because he might not be able to control himself when they’re lying back in the chair anesthetized?

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 12 Thumb down 0

  14. Jeremy R says:

    Nelson, 32, worked for Knight for 10 years, and he considered her a stellar worker. But in the final months of her employment, he complained that her tight clothing was distracting, once telling her that if his pants were bulging that was a sign her clothes were too revealing, according to the opinion.

    He also once allegedly remarked about her infrequent sex life by saying, “that’s like having a Lamborghini in the garage and never driving it.”

    So she was young enough to his daughter and he admits she was excellent at her job and that he was sexually harassing her. His wife finds out about his inappropriate behavior, they go to their pastor and he spins his describing his erection to his subordinate and creepily flirting about her sex life as his somehow asking her to dress less provocatively or something. His wife, his pastor and the court apparently buy this ridiculous explanation.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 8 Thumb down 1

  15. Brett says:

    This is obviously going to get challenged, and I’m hoping she also sues him for sexual harassment (which seemed to be going on, from the details in the article).

    Put me in the camp of people who think that this guy probably has a history of screwing around, and likely was carrying a torch for her for years before he finally started making a move (like sending text messages).

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 11 Thumb down 1

  16. Janis Gore says:

    Y’all:

    “Knight and Nelson — both married with children — started exchanging text messages, mostly about personal matters, such as their families. Knight’s wife, who also worked in the dental office, found out about the messages and demanded Nelson be fired.”

    Messages such as:

    “You make me hotter than my husband ever did.

    “My wife never was very good at that.”

    “You sure your kids have soccer practice right after school is out?”

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 1 Thumb down 5

  17. Nash Montana says:

    Shariah is coming to the American workplace.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 0 Thumb down 0

  18. bill says:

    too bad they can’t fire those ugly ,old “stewardesses” on most domestic airlines….

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 2 Thumb down 3

  19. Ben Wolf says:

    @Janis Gore:

    “You make me hotter than my husband ever did.

    “My wife never was very good at that.”

    “You sure your kids have soccer practice right after school is out?”

    What is your source for these quotes?

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 2 Thumb down 0

  20. OldmanRick says:

    This is so islamic. Blame and punish the woman, but not the man . How ridiculous.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 7 Thumb down 0

  21. Janis Gore says:

    @Ben Wolf: I just made them up.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 0 Thumb down 1

  22. Keith Monia says:

    My wife is a great worker & very sexy. I’m not about to fire her.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 0 Thumb down 0

  23. Keith Monia says:

    @Keith Monia:

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 0 Thumb down 0

  24. Joy Dantine says:

    @PJ: She could still get raped…

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 0 Thumb down 0

  25. Janis Gore says:

    @Ben Wolf: Wait, Ben. I think I plagiarized those from the Anthony Wiener fiasco.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 1 Thumb down 0

  26. Bill says:

    He hired her in the first place. People should STOP going to Dr. Knight as their dentist.
    CHANGE YOUR DENTIST

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 0 Thumb down 0

  27. grumpy realist says:

    Why does this not surprise me? Blame the woman because you can’t control yourself, and a all-male court backs you up.

    I wish the lunatics screaming about Sharia coming to the US would squawk about this. As a woman, what’s the difference?

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 2 Thumb down 0