The Iowa Supreme Court ruled today that employers can fire employees towards whom they have an "irresistible attraction," irrespective of the latter's workplace conduct.
The 7-0 decision, handed down by the all-male court, came about as a result of a lawsuit filed by married dental assistant Melissa Nelson, 32, against her boss of ten years, Dr. James Knight, D.D.S., alleging gender discrimination.
She claimed Knight fired her at the behest of his wife, who became jealous of their out-of-office relationship, which included the exchange of personal, yet innocuous texts. Knight readily admits that he fired Nelson, whom he said was the best dental assistant he'd ever had, after consulting with his pastor, because he found her tight-fitting clothes distracting and he felt his marriage was in jeopardy.
According to court documents, Knight — described by his lawyer as "a very religious and moral individual" — once told Nelson the bulge in his pants was an indication that her clothes were too revealing. He also informed Nelson's husband that he had to fire Nelson out of fear that he might try and sleep with her.Yet somehow that bonar and fear of his own moral weakness to want to try to seduce his female subordinate causing discharge was NOT motivated by gender. Uh...yeah, right.
It should be noted that for a variety of reasons this was not a sex harassment claim, just a straight up gender claim, making the liability theories a bit more difficult (but the facts demanded it, the plaintiff claimed she did not feel pressured to sleep with the defendant nor did she believe there to be a hostile work environment).
But still, there's no doubt the Defendant's "boner law" is pretty clear evidence that gender played a role.
I fully expect defendant's in Iowa and elsewhere will now try to use their wives...and boners...as cat's paws in both hiring and firing decisions (to be fair the "spouse made me do it" has been used successfully before, just not so embarrassingly and often not successfully because it is, well so often clearly lame), I think that will ultimately not work so well...but it will be a pain in the ass for a while.