Can a woman be sacked for being irresistible?
Well it seems that a court in the US has caused a national outcry by ruling in favour of a dentist who sacked his assistant for this very reason.
The Iowa Supreme Court’s decision that it was lawful for James Knight to fire Melissa Nelson, because he was worried that he would try to start an affair with her, has led some legal experts to warn that it could open the door to broader discrimination at work.
Dr Knight admitted that Ms Nelson, thirty-three, had worked for him for ten years, was a perfect employee, and the ‘best dental assistant’ he had ever had.
The pair have not had any sexual relations and Ms Nelson, a married mother of two, said she considered Dr Knight, fifty-three, as a father figure. He only began commenting on her appearance towards the end of her employment when, on one occasion, she allegedly spoke about the infrequency of her sex life. He replied: ‘That’s like having a Lamborghini in the garage and never driving it.’
The dentist dismissed her suddenly after his wife found out that the pair had been texting each other, mainly on mundane matters, and demanding Ms Nelson’s sacking.
After rejecting her claim in December for unfair dismissal, the all-male court took the unusual step of retracting its decision – only to reinstate its ruling earlier this month, arguing that Dr Knight was ‘driven entirely by individual feelings and emotions regarding a specific person’.
She was not fired because of her sex, it said, but because Dr Knight and his wife felt she posed a threat to their marriage.
The second ruling has drawn even more paining reverberations than the first. The Des Moines Register said ‘if in revisiting its prior judgment Iowa’s highest court was trying to look less sexist and more emphatic…it failed miserably’.
Emily McCarty, who represented Ms Nelson, said the case could set a precedent creating a legal loophole whereby employers could get away with racial or other discrimination by insisting that their actions were determined merely by their feelings. She said, ‘As women we’re forced to constantly navigate the fine line between being attractive and charming enough so that we’re well liked and not accused of being cold, and yet not seeming so warm and inviting that our professionalism is undermined or we receive unwanted sexual attention.’
To all this Dr Knight’s office said that he had no further comment.
What a ridiculous and disgraceful case this turned out to be. The court’s judgment is certainly an abuse of Ms Nelson’s human rights. Dr Knight has sacrificed his assistant for fear that his own libido might lead him astray, and the court had the impudence to agree with him.
God save America, the land of the free – or is it simply a delusion? They say good Americans go to Paris when they die. The lot that condemned Ms Nelson will go to hell instead.