A University of Iowa law professor is among those wondering why the Iowa Supreme Court agreed to rehear the case of a fired dental hygienist who was let go because she was “too attractive” and a perceived threat to her boss’s marriage. 

“It’s still not clear to me exactly why the court agreed to rehear the case,” says Todd Pettys, the associate dean for faculty in the University of Iowa College of Law. “None of the justices changed their vote…It appears to me what they really wanted to do was take another shot at explaining why they were reaching the conclusion that they did, understanding that they had come under some criticism.”

In December, the state supreme court ruled a Fort Dodge dentist had the right to fire his female employee, as his wife demanded. The wife had discovered the two were texting one another, and some of the texts were about sex. Pettys calls it a “curious” ruling.

“The ultimate conclusion is basically what it said the first time around,” Pettys says. 

Iowa Supreme Court Justice Chief Justice wrote a separate opinion that was attached to the court’s unanimous, sort of “do-over” decision.

“Chief Justice Cady, in particular with the separate opinion he wrote, seemed to me to be pretty aware of the national attention this case has drawn and really went to great lengths to try to explain not only the lines that the court was drawing, but why it felt compelled by the laws, as written, to draw the lines in that way,” Pettys says.

The chief justice concluded that Melissa Nelson — the dental hygienist who filed the lawsuit — was terminated because of her personal relationship with her married boss, “not because of her gender.”