Melissa Nelson, 32, has been fired from her job, and her only crime was being too attractive. Nelson had been working as a dental assistant for 10 years before being let go for posing a threat to her employer’s marriage.
“I think it is completely wrong,” Nelson said, according to ABC News. ”I think it is sending a message that men can do whatever they want in the workforce.”
An all-male Iowa State Supreme Court ruled on Friday that Nelson's employer, James Knight, had not violated the law when he let his longtime employee go based on her appearance.
“We do think the Iowa Supreme Court got it completely right,” Knight’s attorney Stuart Cochrane said. “Our position has always been Mrs. Nelson was never terminated because of her gender, she was terminated because of concerns her behavior was not appropriate in the workplace. She’s an attractive lady. Dr. Knight found her behavior and dress to be inappropriate.”
Nelson, who is married with two children, disputes the claim that she had acted or dressed inappropriately at work.
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“I was very surprised after working so many years side by side. I didn’t have any idea that that would have crossed his mind,” she said, according to ABC.
The court documents show no allegations of a sexual encounter or attempts to have one between the former boss and employee. Documents do say that Knight had begun commenting on the state of Nelson’s attire being distracting.
“Dr. Knight acknowledges he once told Nelson that if she saw his pants bulging, she would know her clothing was too revealing,” the justices wrote.
According to court documents, Nelson said she received a text message from Knight, asking how frequently she achieved an orgasm during sex. She said she never replied to the messages nor told Knight they bothered her.
“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,” wrote Justice Edward M. Mansfield of the Iowa high court. “The issue before us is not whether a jury could find that Dr. Knight treated Nelson badly.”
Nelson was fired when Knight’s wife Jeanne found out about the text conversation. Knight’s spouse also works at the practice and ordered her husband to fire the longtime employee.
A senior pastor at their church consulted with the couple and instructed them to fire Nelson to save their marriage. Knight fired Nelson on Jan. 4, 2010, with a pastor present.
“Dr. Knight felt like for the best interest of his marriage and the best interest of hers to end their employment relationship,” Cochrane said to ABC.
An odd aspect of the court document is that Knight notes that Nelson was good at her job, and Nelson alleges that Knight had usually respected her.
Steve Nelson, Melissa’s husband, attempted to talk Knight out of firing his wife, but Knight was unmoved.
Knight says he “feared he would try to have an affair with her down the road if he did not fire her.”
Nelson's attorney, Paige Fiedler, said in a statement reported by KCRG, “We are appalled by the court’s ruling and its failure to understand the nature of gender bias.
“Although people act for a variety of reasons, 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. Nearly every woman in Iowa understands this because we have experienced it for ourselves.”