Iowa S. Ct. to reconsider if it’s legal to fire an employee for her irresistible attraction

(Betcha didn’t see that lede coming…)

So, let me take you back to late December 2012 — a time when my blog was blowing up. Back then, I wrote this post about Melissa Nelson. Ms. Nelson had worked as an assistant to dentist James Knight. That is, until Dr. Knight fired her in 2010 based on concerns from both he and his wife that if Ms. Nelson continued to work for Dr. Knight, he’d have sex with her and it would ruin their marriage.

So, Ms. Nelson sued for gender discrimination.

[Folks, rather than soundtracking this post with “Dr. Feelgood” or “Simply Irresistible,” I was this close to breaking new, “don’t come back to work on Monday”, ground with a Two Live Crew single. This close. Then again, the whole collecting a paycheck thing…] 

Ultimately, the Iowa Supreme Court ruled unanimously in this opinion that Ms. Nelson’s claim should be construed as one of “sexual favoritism,” rather than “gender discrimination.” — “treating an employee unfavorably because of such a relationship does not violate the law.” Indeed, Dr. Knight fired Ms. Nelson, not because she was a woman, but because of her “irresistible attraction.” (Dr. Knight replaced her with a less attractive woman).

Well, Jeff Eckhoff at the Iowa Des Moines Register reports here that the Iowa Supreme Court has withdrawn its unanimous decision in the Nelson case to reconsider it:

On Monday, Chief Justice Mark Cady signed an order resubmitting Nelson’s lawsuit for reconsideration by the court effective 9 a.m. Wednesday. Cady’s order says the case will be reopened for discussion by the court; there will be no further oral arguments or additional input from Knight. Nelson’s appeal will simply be re-evaluated based on previously submitted evidence and legal briefs.

A new decision could come as early Friday, when justices theoretically are scheduled to wrap up all pending cases submitted during the prior term.

An Iowa Supreme Court spokesman said it’s “rare” for justices to grant petitions to rehear a case. Five such requests have been granted over the past decade.

Now, I’m no expert on Iowa civil judicial procedure, but I cannot imagine that this unanimous decision will be overturned. Indeed, I think they got it right on the law. But, the Eckhoff article indicates that one of the Iowa Justices may have changed his mind. (The original decision came from 9 male Justices). Maybe, someone will find that while the termination does not constitute gender discrimination, it still violates public policy.

(h/t my friends at @SJEmpEssentials)

Updated:
  • HoosierMommy

    So perhaps the Iowa Supreme Court justices are not total idiots – but we’ll see, based on what they do now.

  • While I agree that it is not gender discrimination – especially since the employer replaced a woman with another woman – I find that the road is quit slippery when someone is fired based upon their looks rather than the work.

  • Rosemary Castelli Lumpkins

    As a former (very senior) male law partner used to say, she could’ve “uglied herself up a bit” for work to avoid being so irresistable to her co-workers and managers. In other words, in his view, women who are attractive AND who make themselves even more so with make-up, flattering clothes and hair are actively inviting attention and sexual interest … perhaps giving rise to a welcomeness defense. I didn’t buy it then and I don’t buy it now. Did Dr. Knight and his wife assume Ms. Nelson would have sex with him just because he was attracted to her? Without facts suggesting the attraction was mutual, the court’s decision based on sexual favoritism could well be off-base.

    • Curious. Does that male partner skill have those scars from his dragging knuckles?