Women & Law: Melissa Nelson v James Knight Dentist Iowa Supreme Court. This story is about a legal case that demonstrates in Iowa State, and maybe most of America, a Woman can be fired simply because she is attractive, and the religious undertones that were ignored that devalue women, scarlet women, gender hypocrisy, patriarchal protectionism. This is a case that shows the consequences where gender equality is not constitutionally mandated and protected such as the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms section 28.
28. Notwithstanding anything in this Charter, the rights and freedoms referred to in it are guaranteed equally to male and female persons.
The Huffington Post headline reads “Bosses can fire Hot Workers for being “Irresistible” All male court (HuffPost Here)
“IOWA CITY, Iowa — 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.” (HuffPost)
“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 [representing the Hot female worker]. “If they get out of hand, then the women can be legally fired for it.” (HuffPost)
The CNN headline reads “Iowa Supreme Court: OK to fire ‘irresistible’ worker” (CNN Here)
“Can a boss fire an employee he finds attractive because he and his wife, fairly or not, see her as a threat to their marriage? Yes, the Iowa Supreme Court ruled Friday. “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,” Justice Edward M. Mansfield wrote for the all-male high court. Such firings may not be fair, but they do not constitute unlawful discrimination under the Iowa Civil Rights Act, the decision read, siding with a lower court.” (CNN)
The local Iowa newspaper the Des Moines Register headline makes things quite clear “Iowa Supreme Court: Firing of attractive worker not harassment. A [male] dentist said the woman was a threat to his marriage.” (DesMoines Here)
“The dentist eventually explained to Nelson’s (the attractive woman employee’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. Such conduct does not amount to sexual harassment, Iowa Supreme Court justices ruled Friday, because it was based on specific emotions tied to a specific relationship and not based solely on a person’s gender.” (Des Moines Register)
The Associated Press Similarly reads “Iowa court: Bosses can fire ‘irresistible’ workers” (AP Here) And this news story exposed the social undercurrents that were never spoken of in the media or the court decision; religion.
“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. … The (employer) Knights consulted with their pastor, who agreed that terminating (employee) Nelson was appropriate. … (Iowa Judge) said the decision was in line with state and federal court rulings that found workers can be fired for relationships that cause jealousy and tension within a business owner’s family. … (Employer) Knight is a very religious and moral individual, and he sincerely believed that firing (employee) Nelson would be best for all parties, he said, “The motives behind Dr. Knight terminating Mrs. Nelson were quite clear: He did so to preserve his marriage.” (AP)
Slate has a commentary on this matter under the more rational headline “Should Bosses be allowed to fire employees for being too Hot” (Slate Here)
“How fundamentally unfair that, when guys prove incapable of regulating their urges, women get fired. If I had anything to do with James Knight’s church, I would start looking for a new pastor. … On a legal level, though, Knight’s defense appears pretty airtight. His lawyers bat away the charge of gender discrimination by claiming that their client let Nelson go not because she was a woman, but because her ineffable attractiveness threatened his marriage. This is lame, but valid in the eyes of the law: Bosses are allowed to fire workers for stupid emotional/family reasons, such as to mollify one’s wife or eliminate nest-wrecking temptations … But yielding to an employer’s irrational preferences—so long as they aren’t explicitly rooted in race, color, religion, sex or national origin—comes with the territory of office work. You can get canned because your laugh grates on your boss’s nerves. Or because he or she misinterpreted something you said. Or, yes, because he or she finds you attractive and would rather not deal.” (Slate)
The Iowas Supreme Court is the final Court of Appeal for the state of Iowa. The complete decision, only 16 pages long is available PDF Here The court citation: IN THE SUPREME COURT OF IOWA No. 11–1857 Filed December 21, 2012 MELISSA NELSON, Appellant, vs. JAMES H. KNIGHT DDS, P.C. and JAMES KNIGHT, Appellees. The case was heard by the full 7 member (all male) court.
The case has essentially six main components (1) sexual harassment, (2) gender discrimination, (3) gender equality, (4) employment law (5) family values (religion) (6) religious freedom. With a bit of family business thrown in. Regardless of the law, which the court is bound by, everybody is probably screaming in their heads that this is discrimination and this is another case of a woman being punished because a man can’t control his penis, lust or emotions. But the Iowa Supreme Court is bound by the law and precedent just like any other court, and this is American state law.
After reading the whole decision it does appear that the Iowa Supreme Court came to the proper decision, based on their understanding of Iowa law, court precedent, and accepted legal principles. But careful examination must be made, and certain matter like religion and family values, patriarchy, scarlet women archetypes, gender hypocrisy, human relations, were flowing within the case and were never brought to the surface and made a proper issue. Especially disturbing is the use of a Pastor (religious priest) in this matter, as a counselor, mediator, negotiator, adviser, in such a secular, legal, and business matters. This matter seems to have been ignored but does seem to infringe upon the employee’s religious freedom amongst other concerns. And this issues seems to have been willfully ignored by the court, lawyers, and parties. The court solved these problems by simply denying that there was any gender issue involved.
There is something fundamentally wrong about a woman being fired because her employer found her attractive, the employer’s wife thought she was a threat to their marriage, that an employer’s “emotions and feelings” (attraction, lust, desire, …) override an employee’s rights, especially when she was considered an excellent employee and worked for the employer for 10 years without incident. (Both parties generally agreed that there was no actual sexual harassment, though there was some consensual flirting). How appeasing your wife trumps business, contractual, legal rights, and legal arrangements is seems dubious justification in the modern world. Essentially this attractive woman was fired by a jealous wife, and the subconscious labeling of the attractive hard working woman as a Scarlet Woman with all the religious overtones.
Part of me see a direct correlation between banning bare breasts in public and this case. Because men cannot control themselves in front of topless women, and may sexually assault, or rape, these women. Women must cover their bodies, hide their breasts, hide their sexuality, because natural bare breast “cause” men to lose control of themselves. Men’s behaviour is not chastized, criminalized, critized, condemned, but the woman is punished, devalued, for merely being a woman.
Throughout this decision is the aura of religious family values, and religious interference with the rights of women. The court seems to have subconsciously accepted generic christian doctrine that women are a threat to men, and women “control” the behaviour of men, and men must be protected from women, even their mere presence. The court never commented on the interference of a Pastor (employer’s priest) into the business, contractual, legal, affairs of the employee woman. The court ignored the reality that most religions codify women for the benefit of men. There is no mention of the employee woman’s religious beliefs or perspective showing that it did not matter.
[personal commentary, not legal advice, any errors and omissions, blunders are my own, and I will try to update]