Friday, January 4, 2013

Court OKs Firing "Irresistible" Woman - COTW #124

In Nelson v. Knight, the Iowa Supreme Court endeavored to determine whether "a male employer [can] terminate a female employee because the employer’s wife, due to no fault of the employee, is concerned about the nature of the relationship between the employer and the employee." To the surprise of many mainstream media outlets, the Court held that this is A-OK.

The male (and married) employer ran a dental office, and the employee was a female (also married) dental assistant. Although the facts do not include any allegations of an actual romantic relationship between the two, there was some . . . err, "questionable" conduct.

The employer complained to the employee that her clothing was "too tight and revealing" and (cringe-alert) "he once told [her] that if she saw his pants bulging, she would know her clothing was too revealing." The employer also, "once texted her to ask how often she experienced an orgasm." For the employee's part, she "allegedly made a statement regarding infrequency in her sex life." But this is not a harassment suit, it's a disparate treatment suit.

The employer's wife objected to what she perceived as the employee's flirting, frequent text messages, clothing, and coldness to her. Eventually the wife insisted her husband terminate the employee because "she was a big threat to our marriage." So he did.

At one point, the Court restates the issue presented as whether an employee "may be lawfully terminated simply because the boss views the employee as an irresistible attraction." The Court relied on non-binding precedent differentiating relationship-based termination from gender-based termination. Ultimately, the Court concluded:
[W]e ultimately think a distinction exists between (1) an isolated employment decision based on personal relations (assuming no coercion or quid pro quo), even if the relations would not have existed if the employee had been of the opposite gender, and (2) a decision based on gender itself.
Summary judgment for the employer affirmed. I should note that the employee was replaced with another woman, which bolstered the employer's defense.

Now, I know how you all think . . . "Irresistible? I'll be the judge of that!" Well, here's a video featuring an audio interview and still pictures of the employee.


  1. Could this woman, if she so chose, bring some sort of charges against the boss for his sexually explicit texts and comments and have a reasonable chance of being successful if she sued?

  2. Excellent question! In theory, she could have a sexual harassment claim. However, she would have to establish she was actually offended by the boss's conduct. The opinion states that she never told him she was offended, and some of her own texts suggest that she may have been a willing participant in these risque exchanges. Also, don't quote me on this, but I think I saw an article that said she wasn't offended by the conduct. So it would probably be an uphill battle.