Fort Dodge woman's firing an ugly deal

Jennifer Hemmingsen
Published: December 29 2012 | 7:18 am - Updated: 1 April 2014 | 3:51 am in
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Forget hate, how does “Don’t fire me because I’m beautiful” sound for an ad campaign?

Not that I think that last week’s Iowa Supreme Court ruling — that a Fort Dodge dentist didn’t break the law when he fired an assistant for being distractingly attractive — is going to lead to mass layoffs of Iowa’s comely co-workers, alluring assistants and enticing employees.

In a case that reads like a Mel Brooks subplot — a middle-aged dentist with a wandering eye, a cute assistant, a few text messages, a jealous wife — the court ruled that James Knight had a right to tell Melissa Nelson to take a hike after 10 years as a stellar employee because her mere presence was starting to jeopardize his marriage.

Since Knight’s decision was based on “feelings and emotions, not gender,” it wasn’t a violation of the Iowa Civil Rights Act, the court ruled. In other words, Nelson wasn’t fired because she was a woman, but because she was an attractive woman — or, at least, Knight found her to be so.

Knight said he worried that if she stayed, he might be tempted into trying to start an affair. For her part, Nelson said she never thought of Knight “that way” — that she looked up to him as a sort of a father figure. Some father.

Know who else advocates keeping women out of the workplace in order to keep men’s thoughts from straying? The Taliban. But I digress.

There’s ample case law to back up the decision, and we could have dismissed the whole thing as just another day in the glamorous life of an at-will employee if Knight’s attorney, Stuart Cochrane, hadn’t called the ruling a “victory for family values.”

I guess I missed the part where we amended those values to include kicking a wife and mother off the payroll because her boss doesn’t know the difference between a workplace and an episode of “The Bachelor.”

There never was any question that Nelson had done anything wrong.

“While there was really no fault on the part of Mrs. Nelson, it was just as clear the decision to terminate her was not related to the fact that she was a woman,” Cochrane said, according to the Associated Press. “The motives behind Dr. Knight terminating Mrs. Nelson were quite clear: He did so to preserve his marriage.”

I just hope Knight’s female patients take the hint and help keep his marriage strong by staying far, far away.

Comments: (319) 339-3154; jennifer.hemmingsen@sourcemedia.net

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