Boss fires assistant for being 'irresistible' - and court rules he's right
Dr. Knight told dental assistant Melissa Nelson that her position was terminated in 2010, more then a decade after she joined his practice in Fort Dodge, Iowa. According to Knight, he found his assistant’s attire "too tight and revealing and distracting,” and was worried that keeping her on the job any longer could threaten his marriage because he found her “irresistible.”
In an earlier decision, a lower court ruled "Ms. Nelson was fired not because of her gender but because she was threat to the marriage of Dr. Knight.” Ms. Nelson appealed that decision, though, only for the Iowa Supreme Court to reaffirm the earlier ruling this week.
On Friday, the top justices in Iowa agreed by a 7-0 vote that the termination was made on account of the dentist’s concerns for saving his own marriage, not in regards to Ms. Nelson’s gender.
"We do think the Iowa Supreme Court got it completely right," Stuart Cochrane, an attorney for James Knight, tells ABC News. "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," the lawyer said.
According to court documents, no sexual relationship ever existed between the two. In the months before her termination, though, Dr. Knight told his assistant that he was having a hard time working alongside her.
"Dr. Knight acknowledges he once told Nelson that if she saw his pants bulging, she would know her clothing was too revealing," the justice wrote in the latest ruling.
Nelson, a 32-year-old mother of two, "denies that she ever flirted with him or sought an intimate or sexual relationship with him," court documents read.
"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 tells ABC.
Attorneys for Ms. Nelson says they are “appalled” by the Court's ruling and the justice’s “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,” attorneys for the women tell local news network KCRG-TV 9 via a statement released this week. “That is discrimination based on sex. Nearly every woman in Iowa understands this because we have experienced it for ourselves. For the seven men on the Iowa Supreme Court not to ‘get it’ is shocking and disheartening. It underscores the need for judges on the bench to be diverse in terms of their gender, race and life experiences."
Before Dr. Knight relieved Ms. Nelson of her duties, he and his wife met with a local pastor to discuss their concerns.
"Dr. Knight felt like for the best interest of his marriage and the best interest of hers to end their employment relationship," his attorneys say.