In Iowa, women can be lawfully fired for being so sexy, they make their boss contemplate an affair

Knight (left) warned Nelson (right) that the sight of her was enough to give him a standing pants tent.
Knight (left) warned Nelson (right) that the sight of her was enough to give him a standing pants tent.

When is being totally sexy a bad thing? When it costs you your job, that's when.

Last Friday, the Iowa Supreme Court ruled that Fort Dodge dentist James Knight was within his rights when he fired a female dental assistant he viewed as an "irresistible attraction."

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Knight, 53, fired Melissa Nelson, 32, after his wife discovered texts he had sent her. One asked her "how often she experienced an orgasm," according to Yahoo.

Nelson, a married mother of two, worked for Knight for 10 years and says she never thought there was any chance their relationship would get physical.

"I was very surprised after working so many years side by side I didn't have any idea that [getting physical] would have crossed his mind," she said. Yet in early 2010, Knight fired her in the presence of a pastor, explaining that he viewed her as a "detriment" to his family, CNN reports.

More background comes courtesy of the Huffington Post:

[I]n the final months of her employment, [Knight] complained that [Nelson's] tight clothing was distracting, once telling her that if his pants were bulging that was a sign her clothes were too revealing, according to the opinion.

He also once allegedly remarked about her infrequent sex life by saying, "that's like having a Lamborghini in the garage and never driving it."

Knight and Nelson - both married with children - started exchanging text messages, mostly about personal matters, such as their families. Knight's wife, who also worked in the dental office, found out about the messages and demanded Nelson be fired. The Knights consulted with their pastor, who agreed that terminating Nelson was appropriate.

Knight fired Nelson and gave her one month's severance. He later told Nelson's husband that he worried he was getting too personally attached and feared he would eventually try to start an affair with her.

Nelson sued, alleging her termination was motivated by gender discrimination, but a district judge dismissed her suit. That ruling was upheld last week by the Iowa Supreme Court in a unanimous decision.

From CNN, here's some of the rationale behind the Supreme Court's ruling:

"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..."As we have indicated above, the issue before us is not whether a jury could find that Dr. Knight treated Nelson badly," read the high court's decision.

"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, and therefore we affirm the judgment of the district court."

Paige Fiedler, Nelson's lawyer, characterized the ruling as "appalling."

"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," Fiedler told the HuffPo. "If they get out of hand, then the women can be legally fired for it."

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