For the second time in seven months, the Iowa Supreme Court has ruled a Fort Dodge dentist who considered his assistant “too attractive” did not discriminate against her when he fired her.
Dental hygienist Melissa Nelson worked for Dr. James Knight for 10 years before she was fired. She filed a lawsuit, arguing she didn’t do anything to get herself fired “except exist as a female.” Knight has said he fired Nelson because he found her attractive and his wife considered her a threat to their marriage.
The all-male Iowa Supreme Court drew national attention in December when it ruled the firing did not constitute sexual discrimination, but in a rare move late last month the court announced it would reconsider the woman’s lawsuit. For a second time, the court has sided with the dentist and dismissed Nelson’s claim of discrimination.
The chief justice of the Iowa Supreme Court said research “has failed to uncover any…court in the nation that has recognized sex discrimination under facts similar to those in this case.” The chief justice said Nelson and the dentist had established a “consensual” personal relationship outside the office. The two sent text messages to one another after office hours, some of those messages were about sex, and the dentist’s wife discovered her husband was texting his employee when the couple was vacationing out-of-state.
The chief justice also cited Iowa’s “employment at will” law which allows bosses to fire workers ‘for reasons personal to them.”