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Iowa Supreme Court Affirms You Can Be Fired For Being Too Attractive

sexy-office-worker

Back in December, James Joyner took note of a decision by the Iowa Supreme Court that rejected a discrimination by a woman who was fired from her job at a small dental office because she was “too attractive.” The decision aroused no small degree of controversy, not the least because the Iowa Supreme Court is all-male and the decision was unanimous. Last month, though, the Court surprised many observers by agreeing to reconsider the case, a rare decision at the appellate level in any state. In the end, though, the result turned out the same way:

Iowa Supreme Court justices today gave Melissa Nelson more expansive reasoning but the same result, finding again in an opinion issued this morning that a Webster County dentist did not discriminate against Nelson when he fired her out of fear that her good looks might prompt him into an extramarital affair.

Nelson’s lawyer late this afternoon issued a statement blasting the all-male court:

“I am beyond distressed at the lack of awareness and understanding this decision demonstrates,” attorney Paige Fiedler said. “Women already have to balance on the very fine line of being respected, professional and well-liked in the workplace without having their perceived charm or attractiveness garner unwanted sexual advances, harassment and discrimination…”

“A decision like this is possible only when the decisionmakers have been sheltered from the day-to-day reality of what it is like to be a woman working outside the home in America,” Fiedler added. “It underscores the necessity of having panels of judges from different walks of life, of different races, with varied professional experiences and of both genders.”

A lawyer for dentist James Knight, meanwhile, said his client is “extremely pleased to have it over.”

“The decision quite honestly … is not stepping away in any way from the decision last December,” said Stu Cochran, Knight’s attorney. “Our laws were never intended to create an environment where every type of event or unfairness in the workplace results in a lawsuit.

“Bad behavior is not equal to illegal behavior.”

(…)

Today’s unanimous ruling includes a 17-page, majority decision that finds in favor of the dentist after stressing that “the issue before us is not whether a jury could find that Dr. Knight treated Nelson badly. 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….”

A 15-page, three-justice concurring opinion then goes on to stress that Nelson “has stated a claim supported by our law. Yet… the fact of the matter is Nelson was terminated because of the activities of her consensual personal relationship with her employer, not because of her gender.”

Court papers say it was roughly 18 months before the end of Nelson’s employment that Knight began to complain about the distractions caused by Nelson’s appearance. Documents say Knight has acknowledged “that he once told Nelson that if she saw his pants bulging, she would know her clothing was too revealing” and on another occasion said it was good that Nelson had not worn tight pants along with a tight shirt because then he would “get it coming and going.”

Documents say Knight’s wife discovered in late 2009 that her husband had been exchanging text messages with Nelson (usually about child-related matters) and demanded that the assistant be fired.

The dentist, after consulting with his pastor, eventually explained to Nelson’s husband in January 2010 that “she’s a big threat to our marriage” and that Knight feared he would attempt an affair if Nelson stayed around.

Nelson’s original lawsuit stressed improper behavior by Knight but alleged sexual discrimination and not harassment, today’s opinions stress. Nelson’s lawyer had argued on appeal, according to court documents, that “if Dr. Knight would have been liable to Nelson for sexually harassing her, he should not be able to avoid liability for terminating her out of fear that he was going to harass her.”

In it’s opinion, the Court stressed the need to make a distinction between an employment decision that may be distasteful to general sensibilities, or which may seem unfair to most people, and one that actually violates the civil rights laws:

Nelson’s arguments warrant serious consideration, but we ultimately think a distinction exists between (1) an isolated employment decision based on personal relations (assuming no coercion or quid pro quo), even if the relations would not have existed if the employee had been of the opposite gender, and (2) a decision based on gender itself. In the former case, the decision is driven entirely by individual feelings and emotions regarding a specific person. Such a decision is not gender based, nor is it based on factors that might be a proxy for gender

The civil rights laws seek to insure that employees are treated the same regardless of their sex or other protected status. Yet even taking Nelson’s view of the facts, Dr. Knight’s unfair decision to terminate Nelson (while paying her a rather ungenerous one month’s severance) does not jeopardize that goal. As the Platner court observed, ” ‘[W]e do not believe that Title VII authorizes courts to declare unlawful every arbitrary and unfair employment decision.’ ” Id. at 905 (quoting Holder v. City of Raleigh, 867 F.2d 823, 825-26 (4th Cir. 1989)).

Nelson’s viewpoint would allow any termination decision related to a consensual relationship to be challenged as a discriminatory action because the employee could argue the relationship would not have existed but for her or his gender. This logic would contradict federal caselaw to the effect that adverse employment action stemming from a consensual workplace relationship (absent sexual harassment) is not actionable under Title VII. See, e.g., Benders v. Bellows & Bellows, 515 F.3d 757, 768 (7th Cir. 2008) (holding that allegations that an employee’s -termination was based on the owner’s desire to hide a past consensual relationship from his wife were “insufficient to support a cause of action for sex discrimination”); see also Blackshear v. Interstate Brands Corp., No. 10-3696, 2012 WL 3553499, at *3 (6th Cir. 2012) (affirming summary judgment for the employer where the employee presented evidence that she was treated unfairly due to her supervisor’s jealousy of her relationship with another employee, and noting that such “personal animus . . . cannot be the basis of a discrimination claim under federal or Ohio law”); West v. MCI Worldcom, Inc., 205 F. Supp. 2d 531, 544-45 (E.D. Va. 2002) (granting summary judgment to an employer when an employee was removed from a project because of a supervisor’s animosity toward the employee over her termination of their consensual relationship but there was no evidence the supervisor had made unwanted advances to the employee following the termination of that relationship).

In a Concurring Opinion joined by two other Justices, Iowa’s Chief Justice made note of something that I’ve always considered significant in this case:

It is an undisputed fact in this case, viewing the evidence in a light most favorable to Nelson, that Nelson and Dr. Knight developed a consensual personal relationship. Similarly, it is undisputed that this relationship extended well beyond the workplace. Nelson and Dr. Knight communicated with each other outside the workplace on matters extraneous to the employment. Their relationship was personal and closer than the relationships Dr. Knight maintained with the other employees. Dr. Knight readily acknowledged he grew attracted to Nelson and was developing feelings of intimacy, and it is accepted for purposes of summary judgment that these feelings were more developed than those possessed by Nelson. Yet, during a frustrating moment involving a co-employee, Nelson confided in Dr. Knight that he was the reason she continued to work at the office. She also acknowledged she maintained a closer relationship with Dr. Knight than he maintained with the other employees in the office. Additionally, Nelson acknowledged that another employee in the office viewed her conduct towards Dr. Knight as flirting, although Nelson believed this employee felt she flirted with Dr. Knight because the employee was jealous of the close relationship she enjoyed with Dr. Knight

(…)

The absence of sexual intimacy in the relationship between Nelson and Dr. Knight, and the absence of sexually suggestive behavior on the part of Nelson, does factually distinguish this case from the line of cases that do not recognize a sex-discrimination claim based on a consensual, romantic relationship. Yet, this distinction does not shift this case into the line of gender-discrimination cases that protect women from discrimination based on their physical appearance. Even if Nelson was fired because Dr. Knight was physically attracted to her, the attraction and resulting threat to the Knights’ marriage surfaced during and resulted from the personal relationship between Nelson and Dr. Knight, and there is no evidence in the summary judgment record tending to prove the relationship or Nelson’s termination were instead consequences of a gender-based discriminatory animus. Ultimately, the question comes down to whether a reasonable fact finder could find that Dr. Knight’s reasons for terminating Nelson were, even in light of the relationship, responses motivated by Nelson’s status as a woman. Courts evaluate this evidence “in light of common experience as it bears on the critical question of discrimination.” Furnco Constr. Corp. v. Waters, 438 U.S. 567, 577, 98 S. Ct. 2943, 2949, 57 L. Ed. 2d 957, 967 (1978).

True to our governing legal authorities, a sex-discrimination claim predicated on physical appearance accompanied by a consensual personal relationship between the employee and employer requires proof that the physical appearance of the plaintiff was a gender-based reason for the adverse employment action.13 An adverse employment action based on a personal relationship that existed here between Nelson and Dr. Knight—or its consequences—is not actionable discrimination based on sex under our statute.

Several facts stand out for me in this case. First, there was clearly a relationship between Nelson and Knight that extended far beyond the office and in which Nelson was a willing participant even though it’s clear that Knight was more forward regarding his comments to her than she was in comments about him. Second, there’s apparently nothing in the record to show that Nelson ever complained, either to Knight or anyone else in the office, about the attention she was getting from Dr. Knight. For better or worse, this seems to be one of those situations of interoffice flirtation that isn’t uncommon, especially in a small office. Indeed, Nelson’s pleadings made no claim for sexual harassment related to the text messages and other contact that the two maintained over the course of their relationship. A third important factor, I’d argue, is the fact that this was a small office situation and that Dr. Knight’s wife was also an employee of the practice. Had this been a larger business and had it been possible for either party to have been transferred to a different, albeit largely equal, position where they weren’t interacting on a daily basis, then a termination arguably might have given rise to a legal claim. Additionally, the added presence of Knight’s wife and the threat that the relationship had toward Knight’s marriage is an added factor that supports his claim that the decision to fire her was based on an admittedly improper relationship, not because of her gender. Indeed, it is conceivable to see exactly this same scenario playing out in a situation where the supervisor and the employee were the same gender, something which tends to discount the argument that this was gender-based discrimination.

As James did in December, I tend to think that the Court got things right here. The general rule in most states is that most employment situations are considered to be “at will,” meaning that an employer can fire an employee at any time for any reason. The only exceptions to this rule exist if there is an employment contract, either with an individual or a union, that sets forth a term of employment and specifies the circumstances that would justify termination, or if the termination is for a reason explicitly forbidden by the law (race, gender, etc.) In the context of a small firm such as this, while the idea of firing someone because the business owner, who works closely with the person in question, is finding it difficult to control his feelings for her may seem unfair or unreasonable, I don’t see a reasonable argument that says that it ought to be illegal, or that the employer ought to be liable for damages in such a situation.

Is this a “fair” decision? In some broad moral sense, probably not but, as far as the law is concerned, it’s the right one.

Here’s the opinion:

Nelson v. Knight et al by dmataconis

Related Posts:

About Doug Mataconis
Doug holds a B.A. in Political Science from Rutgers University and J.D. from George Mason University School of Law. He joined the staff of OTB in May, 2010 and also writes at Below The Beltway. Follow Doug on Twitter | Facebook

Comments

  1. michael reynolds says:

    The Taliban have filed a concurring opinion.

    Highly-rated. Helpful or Unhelpful: Thumb up 19 Thumb down 3

  2. wr says:

    Let’s wait until a woman fires a man for being too attractive. Somehow I suspect these wise sages will discover that there is a terrible injustice there.

    Highly-rated. Helpful or Unhelpful: Thumb up 18 Thumb down 3

  3. al-Ameda says:

    @wr:

    Let’s wait until a woman fires a man for being too attractive. Somehow I suspect these wise sages will discover that there is a terrible injustice there.

    Wait a minute: whatever happened to Stone Phillips? Did he sue?

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 2 Thumb down 0

  4. al-Ameda says:

    Court papers say it was roughly 18 months before the end of Nelson’s employment that Knight began to complain about the distractions caused by Nelson’s appearance. Documents say Knight has acknowledged “that he once told Nelson that if she saw his pants bulging, she would know her clothing was too revealing” and on another occasion said it was good that Nelson had not worn tight pants along with a tight shirt because then he would “get it coming and going.”

    I am somewhat surprised this went to court, and that Knight did not settle in advance of the legal festivities. Knight got his desired court decision but the publicity and disclosure of his extremely bad behavior cannot be good for his business.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 13 Thumb down 1

  5. Woody says:

    @michael reynolds:

    Now I’m finding conservative hysteria against sharia law even more head-scratching.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 14 Thumb down 3

  6. Woody says:

    Sew a cross onto a burqa and voila! the Jesus Freedom! Professional Clothing line (women only), now available at all area Hobby Lobbys.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 10 Thumb down 3

  7. Tillman says:

    I mean, I understand their reasoning, that he didn’t fire her because she was a woman, but I don’t see how you can logically separate her being a woman from his attraction to her. One causes the other. If a gay boss fired me from a job because I was tempting him too much, I’d go to court too.

    Furthermore, adults settle things diplomatically. (At least in theory.) He could have broken off the personal relationship outside the office himself, told her what he told the court, and not had to fire her.

    This seems eerily similar to the rape justification, “Did you see how she was dressed? She was asking for it!”

    Highly-rated. Helpful or Unhelpful: Thumb up 18 Thumb down 3

  8. PJ says:

    “O Prophet! Say to your wives and your daughters and the women of the faithful to draw their outergarments (jilbabs) close around themselves; that is better that they will be recognized and not annoyed. And God is ever Forgiving, Gentle.”

    “And say to the faithful women to lower their gazes, and to guard their private parts, and not to display their beauty except what is apparent of it, and to extend their headcoverings (khimars) to cover their bosoms (jaybs), and not to display their beauty except to their husbands, or their fathers, or their husband’s fathers, or their sons, or their husband’s sons, or their brothers, or their brothers’ sons, or their sisters’ sons, or their womenfolk, or what their right hands rule (slaves), or the followers from the men who do not feel sexual desire, or the small children to whom the nakedness of women is not apparent, and not to strike their feet (on the ground) so as to make known what they hide of their adornments. And turn in repentance to Allah together, O you the faithful, in order that you are successful”

    Women are temptresses, and if they refuse to cover up so that men will lust after them and be unable to do their work or be faithful to their wives, then they should be fired! (Perhaps even stoned. All depending on if marijuana use is legal or not.)

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 12 Thumb down 2

  9. PJ says:

    @Tillman:

    This seems eerily similar to the rape justification, “Did you see how she was dressed? She was asking for it!”

    Those Skittles in his pocket looked like a gun! He was asking for it!

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 10 Thumb down 1

  10. rudderpedals says:

    Employment “at will” == “At whim” employment in actual practice :( A personal relationship is present in every one of these situations where the supervisor and underling have worked together for 10 years. I’m not sure they got this one right.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 5 Thumb down 1

  11. Laurence Bachmann says:

    The comparisons to the Taliban, while sensational are really pretty stupid. One wonders if the authors actually know what the Taliban is and what it does. They certainly don’t know much about employment law.

    As the judges themselves said, something can be unfair without being illegal. And lots of unfair things happen in states where employment is at will. Anyone is welcome to lobby to change the law and replace it with one more equitable.

    That is how democracy works. Unlike the Internet where anyone can be smeared by a loud mouth who doesn’t know his ass from his elbow but wants everyone to think he is clever.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 6 Thumb down 7

  12. Gustopher says:

    I’m not sure of the legality (the Iowa Supreme Court makes me question Iowa’s legal system), but the dentist really failed at the morality.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 10 Thumb down 1

  13. Laurence Bachmann says:

    @rudderpedals: You’ve hit on the crux of the potential problem with their decision was it will or whim that motivated the dentist? But if you look at the history of our courts they have overwhelmingly favored employers, not employees. At times, tragically so. That is an injustice worth highlighting and attempting to change. But most worthwhile redress usually comes through legislation that specifically addresses an unfair circumstance.

    Hopefully that will be soon so we can dispense with comparisons to the Taliban and rape.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 5 Thumb down 0

  14. anjin-san says:

    That is how democracy works

    A group with more power steps on a group with less power? Well, this is how democracy sometimes works. It’s certainly not democracy in its ideal form.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 8 Thumb down 2

  15. Ben Wolf says:

    I understand and sympathize with Dr. Knight. His action was unjust but it was (I think) motivated by a desire to avoid a greater injustice to his family. I hate to break it to some of you, but free will is a very limited thing. Some people have a much more powerful reproductive drive than others just as some are more aggressive; it can often be hard-wired. This guy found himself saying and doing things he could not bring himself to stop and so removed the target of the behavior before it went too far.

    I would, however, like to know if he at any point asked her to leave voluntarily. Simply firing her does increase the prick factor several points, particularly in a terrible labor market.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 4 Thumb down 7

  16. Laurence Bachmann says:

    @anjin-san: You should pick up a history book once before you die–democracy is rarely fair. The history of the USA is proof positive And there are no groups here. There is a dentist and an assistant. Individuals, no groups. Re-read the article.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 1 Thumb down 11

  17. Ben says:

    Just because a result is unfair and inequitable doesn’t mean it is (or should be) necessarily illegal. The desire to criminalize every shitty outcome always has unintended consequences, and why we ended up with the overcriminalization problem outlined in “Three felonies a day”.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 5 Thumb down 1

  18. ernieyball says:

    @rudderpedals: Employment “at will” == “At whim” employment in actual practice

    I have worked several jobs “at will” in Illinois and Iowa and other states.
    I always understood that it is a two way street.
    The employer may terminate the employee at will and has no obligation to state any reason at all.
    Why the dentist made this known is a mystery to me. He should have kept his mouth shut.
    Employees may quit without notice. They need not account for themselves.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 4 Thumb down 0

  19. Franklin says:

    Attractive people, particularly women, have a big advantage over the rest of us. Despite the apparent injustice here, perhaps it actually balances out the overall karma of the universe a little bit.

    /Oh, yeah, but it’s still a man’s world.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 2 Thumb down 5

  20. Tyrell says:

    Okay, is it okay to fire someone for being too “ugly”? Overweight? Too thin? Blond?
    Did they not know this when they hired her or did her looks improve?

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 6 Thumb down 2

  21. Jenos Idanian #13 says:

    I’m too sexy for this blog,
    Too sexy for this blog,
    I swirl in this sexy fog.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 6 Thumb down 0

  22. rudderpedals says:

    @ernieyball:

    I always understood that it is a two way street.

    When the employer and employee have equal bargaining power I can agree with that

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 4 Thumb down 1

  23. wr says:

    @Ben Wolf: “I hate to break it to some of you, but free will is a very limited thing. Some people have a much more powerful reproductive drive than others just as some are more aggressive; it can often be hard-wired”

    Is there any crime for which this is not a defense under your formulation? “Your honor, my client has a much stronger reproductive need than others, so he was compelled to rape those six women.” “Your honor, my client simply is more aggressive than others, so he didn’t have a choice — he had to murder the man who wouldn’t give him that promotion.”

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 6 Thumb down 1

  24. Tillman says:

    @Laurence Bachmann: I agree with you in general, but I want to note I wasn’t comparing this to rape, per se, but a specific rape justification. The dude was married, but fired the woman because he felt as if he wouldn’t be able to help himself since she was so attractive. That’s his fault, but she is being punished for it.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 5 Thumb down 1

  25. Tillman says:

    @Ben Wolf:

    I hate to break it to some of you, but free will is a very limited thing. Some people have a much more powerful reproductive drive than others just as some are more aggressive; it can often be hard-wired. This guy found himself saying and doing things he could not bring himself to stop and so removed the target of the behavior before it went too far.

    As I said, there were better ways to go about it than firing her.

    Also, isn’t the colloquialism that you should walk away from problem interactions, not “remove” them?

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 1 Thumb down 1

  26. Jenos Idanian says:

    One more OT: there’s been a verdict in the Zimmerman trial.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 1 Thumb down 0

  27. michael reynolds says:

    @Laurence Bachmann:

    The core assumption behind Taliban/Islamist repression of women is that women are temptresses and men are fundamentally powerless to resist them.

    This is the identical assumption underlying our good dentist’s decision to fire the plaintiff.

    The Iowa Supremes just supported him in that position.

    I have no comment on the interpretation of law since I know zip about Iowa constitutional law. I was making a snarky remark to which you reacted as though I’d made a serious argument about law. My snark was on-point as to the underlying approach to male-female relationships.

    If I were an unkind sort I might point out your difficulty in recognizing what was obviously a tossed-off snark. Or did you think I actually believed the Taliban filed a concurrence. In Iowa. A place of whose existence I rather doubt they are aware.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 1 Thumb down 2

  28. anjin-san says:

    Jenos Idanian says:

    One more OT: there’s been a verdict in the Zimmerman trial.

    Happiness is warm gun and a dead kid, eh Jenos?

    Enjoy your big moment. This is as good as it will ever get for you.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 0 Thumb down 3

  29. Jenos Idanian says:

    @anjin-san: I’ll refrain from discussing details until there’s an appropriate thread. Until then, I think I’ll respect OTB’s blackout of the story.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 0 Thumb down 1

  30. michael reynolds says:

    @Jenos Idanian:

    It is 11:42 on the east coast. I don’t believe James and Doug and Steven and Dave are running a 24 hour service. I think we’d have to pay them more than nothing to do that.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 6 Thumb down 0

  31. anjin-san says:

    I think I’ll respect OTB’s blackout of the story.

    Yes, you are all about respect. That explains all the times you have brought this up off topic.

    Enjoy your magic moment. Like I said, this – dancing on the grave of a dead 17 year old – is as good as it gets for you.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 2 Thumb down 3

  32. ernieyball says:

    @rudderpedals: When the employer and employee have equal bargaining power I can agree with that

    Over the 35 years of plying my trade across this fine land there were more than a few times when my labor was in great demand. As long as I was willing to travel to whatever corner of Paradise that needed my skills, I could bargain with employers for pay rates and other compensation.
    I left more than one “at will” project, without notice, to move to another situation that paid more or provided better working conditions or both. The employer I would leave always had the chance to pay me more if they wanted me to stay. Sometimes they did. Sometimes they did not.
    I suspect that if in those situations my bargaining power had been “equal” (whatever that means)
    to that of a current or prospective employer I would not have had the leverage required to earn more money at a current or future work site.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 2 Thumb down 0

  33. Jenos Idanian says:

    @anjin-san: Doug’s got a thread up about it. I made a very brief comment there, and now I’m going to bed.

    And you really show how little you know about me. I don’t dance at all. There are ordinances and restraining orders involved. I’d rather not go into more detail; it’s too personally painful.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 2 Thumb down 0

  34. wr says:

    @Jenos Idanian: “I’ll refrain from discussing details until there’s an appropriate thread. Until then, I think I’ll respect OTB’s blackout of the story. ”

    Unlike the fifteen masturbatory posts you put up on the subject every hour? What’s the problem — all your gym socks need washing? Mom!!!

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 0 Thumb down 2

  35. blue bunny farms says:

    @Ben Wolf: That’s a load of crap. If you are a weak man and cannot control yourself around the opposite sex, then say so. What you are saying is tantamount to fat people have stronger hunger pangs and so they cannot stop overeating…Unless you are a monkey somewhere in the jungle that is acceptable, but if you claim to be a male human being, then stop making excuses and blaming the woman, like Adam did Eve so many millenia ago. Man up for chri-t sakes!!!!

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 0 Thumb down 1

  36. tyrell says:

    Just looking at this photo, I would say we can assume there is not a lot of work going on at that place. There are now men lined up out the door applying for work there.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 2 Thumb down 0

  37. Male Matters says:

    Let’s assume that happened: a husband told his dentist wife to fire Mr. Handsome.

    The story would have been about “husbands controlling their wives.”

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 1 Thumb down 0

  38. HoyaMama says:

    @Ben Wolf:

    “I understand and sympathize with Dr. Knight. His action was unjust but it was (I think) motivated by a desire to avoid a greater injustice to his family. I hate to break it to some of you, but free will is a very limited thing. Some people have a much more powerful reproductive drive than others just as some are more aggressive; it can often be hard-wired. This guy found himself saying and doing things he could not bring himself to stop and so removed the target of the behavior before it went too far.”

    You do realize that in your discussion, you have literally reduced Ms. Nelson’s status and agency to that of an inanimate object, right? That your understanding of the situation is that the only thing that stood between Dr. Knight and the ruin of his marriage was his–and only his–choice of what to do about his chosen “target”? That you’ve assumed here that Ms. Nelson was working and living in a state of perpetual consent to any sexual activity Dr. Knight decided he wanted to engage in? (I’m guessing I might need to point out that mild, moderate, or even severe flirtation does not indicate the presence of consent. An answer of “Yes!” to the question, “Do you want to have sex with me?” indicates the presence of consent.) And you’ve assumed here that Dr. Knight’s marriage was more important, and more deserving of protection and preservation, than was Ms. Nelson’s right to her job?

    People here are talking about rape because this situation between Dr. Knight and Ms. Nelson, and the legal outcome of the case, are symptoms of rape culture. In a rape culture, rape is seen as inevitable and natural as bad weather, and men’s sexual appetites as inexorable as tornadoes and tsunamis–and it’s up to women to dress appropriately or even stay indoors entirely. Women have been and are continued to be told by cultures which oppress them what Dr. Knight told Ms. Nelson, in effect: Your presence here, in this public space, is a danger to men and a danger to yourself. Cover yourself up, or leave, you are too tempting. I won’t be able to help myself.

    This has been used to justify the denial of all kinds of women’s rights: the right to an education, the right to work, the right to participate in the public sphere, the right to vote, the right to expose an ankle without being brutally beaten for indecency.

    It’s time to put the “I just couldn’t help myself” excuse to bed. Evolving standards of decency and the knowledge that men are more than their hormones (just as women are) demand it.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 1 Thumb down 1