Court: OK for man to fire woman because he was sexually attracted to her

Ryan J. Foley with the AP;

A dentist acted legally when he fired an assistant that he found attractive simply because he and his wife viewed the woman as a threat to their marriage, the all-male Iowa Supreme Court ruled Friday. The court ruled 7-0 that bosses can fire employees they see as an “irresistible attraction,” even if the employees have not engaged in flirtatious behavior or otherwise done anything wrong


    1. People!  The important point here is that Fort Dodge dentist James Knight is going to be working on your mouth, possibly while you are sedated or under nitrous, and by his own admission, he can’t control his sexual urges.

  1. Just because something is legal doesn’t mean it is just. We all have a responsibility to break unjust laws, so employers should begin to hire as many irresistible employees as possible.

    All other things being equal, of course.

  2. I know a business that fired an employee who couldn’t manage his attraction to a married (and uninterested) coworker, but this? This is fucked up.

  3. I picture the Iowa Supreme Court looking at pictures of the assistant and applying the old I-know-it-when-I-see-it test to decide if she’s hot enough. 

    1. Hot or Not is now judicial precedent? Does this mean Facebook and Instagram have to hand your party pictures over to US Courts? Pretty soon TSA can cut out the middle-man and just subpena our naughty pics to whack off to in the breakroom, leaving more on-the-job time for molesting children. Yay progress!

  4. Most current employers in the US are “at will”, meaning that they don’t *have* to have to give a reason at all to get rid of an employee. It’s not really an issue of the reason being good or bad. Yes, I don’t like it either, but there isn’t much of a labor movement left here.

    1. you can fire someone for any reason in an “at will” employment sense UNLESS the firing violates a law or constitutional right. Here, the Iowa Supremes just further weakened equal protection under the law and women’s rights.

      1.  I’m assuming (maybe incorrectly) that a woman boss can also fire a male subordinate she finds “irresistible” as well.

        1. Yes, but that is not an equal protection; women are less likely to be hired than men, women are more likely to be discriminated against in the workplace than men, women are generally more likely to have less power than men, so this unfair behaviour is more likely to affect women than men.

          1.  Except gender discrimination, in the law, is not a “statistical” issue, but an issue of whether or not the law applies. OF COURSE that’s an equal protection issue – if a woman would get the protection and a man wouldn’t, how could you get any less “equal protection”?

            All your statistics mean is that we should see a lot more women winning cases than men, not that an identical situation with reversed genders is any less wrong or illegal (or legal, in this case, since this was ruled a-ok)

        2. You forget that “equal protection” refers not only to gender. In theory a beautiful person should have the same rights as an ugly person. If you can’t fire someone because they are ugly, then you shouldn’t be able to fire someone because they are attractive.

          1. Being attractive is NOT a protected class. Equal protection refers to protected classes, not whatever the hell you feel like. 

      2. The thing is that most employers in an “at will” state can’t manage to just let someone go, they have to give an incriminating little speech where they admit what they are doing is clearly illegal.

          1. You know, I have one simple request. And that is to have sharks with frickin’ laser beams attached to their heads!

  5. It should be noted that the plaintiff declined to sue for sexual harassment, but specifically sued on the grounds of gender discrimination, arguing that she would not have been fired had she been male. The finding of the court was that gender was not the central issue in the termination, which, according to the details of this article, sound accurate to me.

    I fully expect the haters will come at me, because, I know! I’m a Nazi! It’s the Internet.

    Before they do, I’m not saying that this is a fair situation. I’m only saying that the plaintiff made a tactical decision to sue for gender discrimination because she believed that it was her best shot at a favorable verdict, and it didn’t pan out. There’s plenty of evidence that we’re living in a bullshit patriarchal society, but it’s not obvious that this counts.

    1. Well, let’s try this one on.

      Suppose he had hired a black man as his assistant, and his wife came to him and said, “I don’t want *those kind of people* around when I visit you at the office.”

      Still legal?

      1. Yes, let’s try this on.

        “Legal” is not an abstract quality. The question here is whether or not a specific law has been broken.

        The court’s role is not to determine whether or not “the law” has been broken, and if so, which law. Its role is to review the case /as it is brought by the plaintiff,/ and to determine if the law that she claims was broken was in fact broken. The case, and the finding, are more specific than you’re making it out to be.

        The plaintiff contended that the issue at stake was her gender. She claims that she was fired because she was a woman, because her employer could not have been attracted to her were she a man.

        The courts concluded, and I am inclined to agree, that the point of contention in this case is not gender per se, which is incidental to the discrimination that’s being alleged. That is the same as finding that the act was legal. It is a finding that the suit brought by the plaintiff is not valid.

        1. I am specifically arguing that her dismissal was gender discrimination. Yes, I understand how courts work, but thanks.

          Being black, and being a woman, are both protected classes, yes? Great, we can go on.

          We agree that, in my hypothetical example, racial discrimination has occurred, because the employee was fired for being a member of a protected class, yes? The fact that the dentist doesn’t care one way or another, but was only firing the black employee to appease his wife, does not remove the fact that he fired an employee due to being a member of a protected class.

          Now, one can argue that “people my husband might be attracted to” is not a protected class, which is what I believe you are doing. While that might be strictly true, one can’t argue that the fact that she was a woman is utterly irrelevant, any more than saying, “Well, I don’t discriminate against women, just so long as we don’t hire anyone who can get pregnant.” When the impact is so obviously disproportionate on a protected class, waving away the nature of the discrimination that way doesn’t pass the smell test.

          1. Obviously, none of that applies because cock is involved. Cock overrides all other legal considerations. Because cock.

          2. Doesn’t change the gender of the assistant. And if it were a male assistant… well, this is why sexual orientation needs to be a protected class.

          3. At the risk of poking the bear, I think you’re wrong and your hypothetical arguments would similarly fail in court. 

            The court decided she was fired for being attractive to her employer, not for being a woman, and thus her suit failed. Same deal if the stated reason had been her incompetence. The fact that she is a woman is irrelevant if the finding is that she is incompetent. It is not gender discrimination — the stated claim of the plaintiff — ergo she loses the case.

            It doesn’t matter what it smells like. It’s how the law works.

          4. So if she had sued for discrimination toward appearance, would she have had a case to stand on? I employed dozens of people over the course of the last  decade, and I never once imagined I had the legal right to fire someone for physical appearance (as opposed to attire, which I could stipulate), but maybe I was wrong. I have to admit, it never crossed my mind to look it up.

          5. I think so. To be clear, I’m not speaking about moral grounds, just legal grounds. However, you also have to take into account jurisdiction. State employment laws vary. I think she may have had a better case to bring unless there is a restrictive list for civil suits which may have forced her choice.

            The issue at hand behind the legal wranglings boils down to, I believe, motive. It is the core of prejudicial accusations. Considering how this case made a splash, I’d like to see some decisive legal details and commentary.

          6. That is what the court decided, but that doesn’t make it good law. Courts, even state supreme courts, issue wrong rulings all the time.

            Yes, she was fired for being attractive to her employer, but in this particular case, that’s not separable from the fact of her being a woman, and attempting to do so is Pharisaical. As mentioned above, it’s like firing someone because the employee might become pregnant, and then claiming her being a woman had nothing to do with it.

          7. Actually, it is separable from the case because the court’s job was to decide if this was gender discrimination, which it is not. Had she been unattractive to him he would not have fired her for being a woman. Had he been bisexual and she a man whom he found similarly attractive, he could have done the same thing on the same grounds. Same two conditions had he been a woman, just swap the gender.

            His stated reason, while most of us agree was indicative of a greater personal issue, is not dependent upon her gender and is not discriminatory toward all women, regardless of the distaste it creates.

            Thanks for teaching me a new word but there’s nothing Pharisaical about arguing the separation of gender from this case because that is entirely the argument of the case. Was she illegally dismissed solely because of her gender? In this instance, her gender — like her ethnicity or age — is not the causative reason (given by the defendant). Pointing out the fallibility of courts is a pointless argument. As you quipped earlier, I know how the courts work, thank you. However, each case must still be argued on its own merit and here the court found that the stated reason was both factual and legal.

            Is it indicative of a moral failing within the courts and its containing society? That is a different argument altogether. Legally, I support the court’s decision. Her case was founded on strong moral grounds but weak legal grounds.

          8. I’m amused that on the one hand, you argue hypotheticals such as “What if were unattractive to him!” or “What if he were bisexual and the plaintiff were a man!”, and then say that we have to decide the case on the facts in front of us.

            To claim that this has nothing to do with gender is simply absurd (and I’ll point out that there’s no reason we have to accept everything a defendant says as being true on its face).

            The easiest way to evaluate this case is: The court has, in effect, stripped protection on the basis of gender from a wide range of women in Idaho, since now all a male employer has to do is claim that the woman is too attractive to him (which, apparently, is a claim we must accept on face value without challenge), and then she can be dismissed without recourse.

            Really, all this claim of “Well, what if she had been a particularly attractive marmoset” is pointless. The facts of the case are: She was fired for being a woman (adding the adjective “attractive” to the front is really beside the point). Had she not been a woman, he would not have fired her. The court decided this was not gender discrimination, but the court was wrong.

          9. The fact that she was attractive and the fact that she was a woman cannot be simply separated and said to operate independently. He can have other female employees and still be liable for sex discrimination.

        2.  This argument only works if the dentist is 100% bisexual, which could be the case, but seems unlikely.

      2. Not a fair analogy at all. The wife’s issue wasn’t about who the employee was, but about her perception of the husband’s reaction to the employee’s presence.

        Now if you stipulated that the employee was a black man, AND she knew the husband had a desire for gay black guy sex, and she was therefore concerned that he would start ‘staying late at the office’ with him, then you would have a reasonable comparison, and as I understand the ruling, yes, it would still be legal. Stupid, but legal.

    2. Fail. Gender discrimination in our society is almost always based on the fact that men often sexualize women in inappropriate ways and then act on it. That’s what gender discrimination is.

  6. If the dentist can’t trust himself for something he has not done yet or may never have done, isn’t this punishment before the ‘crime’.

    Premeditated adultery? I’d be more angry if I were the wife. “Honey, I haven’t cheated but this gal I hired is giving me reason to….”

    “Fire her.”

  7. Lowest blow… “she viewed the 53-year-old Knight as a father figure.”

    So, anyway, he hires another woman to replace the vixen.  I wonder how that woman feels knowing she’s regarded as unattractive enough to not be a threat to anyone’s marriage.

  8. i’m shocked (shocked) that we ever are made aware of the actual reason.  in Washington state an at will state you can be fired with no reason given at all.  yet in general, why admit to such a slimy reason; when it’s so easy to concoct something different? (ahnh… perhaps the real real reason was even more foul?)  yes yes, i know i’m suggesting to appear non-slimy by being slimy, but isn’t that often the legal system?

    1. Truth. The lawyer went so far as to say it was “a victory for family values.” The attitude is horrific. Essentially, I’m a man, I’m not responsible for my sex drive and my actions; so please, get this woman, or heck, why not all women, out of the workplace.

      1. Yes this ruling is almost as sexist toward men as it is toward women. Yeah, holmes is responsible for himself and from the details in the case it seemed he might have crossed the line into sexual harassment even thought the plaintiff did not say he did. I will respect her take on the situation.

        I need to point out that this was a ten year working relationship. The pastor and the defendant’s wife may have been more worried about the emotional closeness of the relationship than any supposed “hottness” which I don’t think we really need to be commenting on. And maybe the dentist had a kind of sexist upbringing where such that he could not interpret that emotional closeness as something distinct from a sexual attraction.

    1. Maybe the attraction took some time to develop. It was over a ten year period, after all. And during that time, perhaps his feelings towards his wife were cooling. Now, in next week’s episode…

    1. Nah. We just need to stop protecting idiocy. Being attractive tends to come with perks built in.

      Also. Sarcasm tags may have been needed on your post. I’m kinda tonedeaf at times online. Sorry.

  9. At least part of the rationale seems to be not that Knight can’t control himself, but that his wife wanted her fired and firing based on THAT is OK:

    “The decision clarified that bosses can make decisions showing favoritism to a family member without committing discrimination; in this case, by allowing Knight to honor his wife’s wishes to fire Nelson, he said.”

    They also seemed more worried that, in the future it would be too easy for fired workers to claim discrimination based on gender if they let this one go. 

    Love the way the son of a bitch who fired a great worker for admittedly no fault on her part is described as very “moral and religious” throughout.  Religious, maybe.  Moral…. not so much.

    1. “Showing favoritism to a family member is okay without committing discrimination”?

      “I’m sorry, my brother really wants to sleep with you and you won’t, so I’m going to have to fire you.  Sorry, not my fault.  Just like it wasn’t his fault when he had to fire that hot receptionist who wouldn’t go out with me.  Maybe you could both get together since you’re both clearly lesbians.”

    2. I think the tone of the article was meant to gall, but it does sound like the court’s rationale was an effort to protect this guy and his role in society as a business owner, husband, and christian. They couldn’t just rule, well it’s okay because we like him. They had to find legal ground to stand on. Part of the problem is they didn’t seem to similarly consider the woman’s legal rights.

  10. Couldn’t such a ruling circumvent most other non-discrimination protections?  No matter what the issue – be it race, age, gender – all the employer has to say is that they have an uncontrollable attraction to that quality, and fire the employee without recourse?  Or if the argument that “I can do whatever I must to save my marriage” is upheld, couldn’t a spouse’s racism or sexism be used as grounds for termination?

  11. He also once allegedly remarked about her infrequent sex life by saying, “that’s like having a Lamborghini in the garage and never driving it.”

    She definitely got screwed over by her boss but this part made me feel kind of bad for her husband too. I’d sure hate it if my infrequent sex life became a matter of public record.

    1.  Yeah, I’m hoping those two can fix any problems they have. Although you never know, they both may have low sex drives.

  12. According to the article, his wife made him fire his employee because she found out he was attracted to her.

    I’m not exactly sure if that’s gender discrimination on the part of the employer. After all, he worked with her for 10 years and never acted on his attraction and thought she was a good worker.

    I’ve certainly had partners over the years who have questioned why I still employed certain people (not due to attraction, but because they simply didn’t like them). I haven’t acted on it, but if my partner told me it was them or me? I don’t know.

  13. It’s at times like this that I’m glad I have the physique of a shaved orangutan with the head of a North Atlantic cod (and yes, in my day I got a flattering ‘Fiji Mermaid’ comparison or two, untill the whole vice-versa thing kicked off…)

  14. Great, the highest court in the land reduces their credibility to an element of a dick Clark/Ryan Seacrest/Trump production.  I hope they gave her a crown and sang “Here she coooomes…..”

  15. i’m struggling to understand how this is ‘wrong’? a shitty thing to happen to the employee and a shitty thing for a boss to do… but this wasn’t the “manager” of a business, it was the owner of the business and the attraction was causing major strife in the owner’s private life.

    should the business be shuttered to save the marriage? how does that help the rest of the staff? it seems somebody had to go and the employee, no matter how shitty it is, is it.

      1. Part of controlling yourself is understanding your limitations and changing your environment.  If you have a drinking problem, you remove all alcohol from your house, you don’t leave it in the liquor cabinet and just ‘try harder’ to control yourself.  I’m not saying this attraction is the same thing as an alcoholic addition but the principle is similar: avoiding transgressions by removing the source of temptation.

        1. I think you just compared a living, breathing human being to a bottle of liquor. Just in case you didn’t notice.

    1.  Seems to me like the business owner should have sought spiritual and/or psychological help for his inability to maintain appropriate boundaries and behave in a respectful way toward his wife and his employee.

    2. So there is no obligation for an employer to learn self control and work through feelings that would be inappropriate to act on?

    3. I personally would not stay married to a woman who told be to fire a good worker that I’ve depended on for ten years.

  16. What a bunch of horse@hit ! Companies are making rules and firing employees in order to make more profits. It should be illegal. I feel bad for that woman. I wish she could sue the crap out that dentist. People need to boycott companies and dentists that behave like this.

  17. Why didn’t he just have an affair with her and keep his mouth shut about it? Have his cake and eat it too, per se.

    1. She’s out of a job because the boss wanted to fuck her and a precedent was set for other bosses being able to fire people they want to fuck? Yeah, no problem. Let’s move on!

  18. Simple point, it wasn’t because she was especially attractive, but because they were developing a strong emotional bond.

  19. …the all-male Iowa Supreme Court ruled Friday…

    That’s the same all-male state supreme court that legalized same-sex marriages ahead of most of the union, so implying that they just don’t get it ’cause they’re a bunch of dudes seems petty at best. Still a dumb decision, but let’s stick to “dumb because it’s dumb” over “dumb because they’ve got wangs.”

    1. That’s the same all-male state supreme court that legalized same-sex marriages ahead of most of the union


      Following the decision, groups opposed to same-sex marriage organized a campaign against Chief Justice Marsha Ternus, Justice David Baker, and Justice Michael Streit in their subsequent retention election, receiving substantial contributions from out of state religious and conservative groups. All three were dismissed by Iowa voters on November 2, 2010, marking the first time an Iowa Supreme Court justice was not retained since the retention system was adopted for Iowa justices in 1962.

      The three were replaced by Republican appointees.

  20. Ladies and gentlemen… remember that big bad threat about the fucking Taliban coming to America?  Here they are.  They’ve been here all along.  This is Taliban bullshit, and has no place in a free society.

  21. I have to reiterate one posters issue with the excessive mention of the “all male” court considering why the court no longer has a female chief justice as pointed out above (and the AP should know). However, I also want to reply to the comment mentioning that the 3 replacement justices coming in for the ones ousted were appointed by a republican governor (possibly implying it is fair to consider that the court has been transformed by these 3 into a gender biased all male court compared to the progressive court that decided Varnum not so long ago), as it shows a lack of familiarity with the judicial selection process in Iowa, of which many complain the governor has no real power of selection. I think the reaction to this decision when this is by and large the same court that handed down the gay marriage decision (unanimous then as here), and knowing the track record of the replacement justices, is exactly why emotional argumentation is not just for conservatives. The court is progressive one day, the next its somehow deliciously important that they are “all male.” (wink wink?). As in Varnum, read the decision instead of just getting angry.

    1. it shows a lack of familiarity with the judicial selection process in Iowa, of which many complain the governor has no real power of selection.

      What part of the Governor appointing them is incorrect?  The Wikipedia article is extremely terse.  If you have more correct information, please provide a citation.

      this is by and large the same court that handed down the gay marriage decision

      Three out of seven changed, including the Chief Justice.  Besides the fact that it doesn’t constitute “by and large”, don’t you think that it might have a chilling effect on the Court?

      1.  Fair points. The Wikipedia article is technically correct, but somewhat misleading. The Judicial nominating commission in Iowa is comprised in two halves, one made-up of Bar appointed attorneys and the other lay people who the governor has appointment power over subject to senate confirmation (which is a slim democratic majority at present). The commission chooses the nominee panel of 3 that is than forwarded to the governor to select from. There is an even more tedious process if he doesn’t select from the 3, involving reselection by the same nominating commission. So yes he appoints them, but it is a filtered process.

        As an aside, Brandstad appointed Marsha Ternus to the Supreme Court originally, as he did the author of the Varnum decision, as he did Justice Streit as a district court judge, so take that how you will.

        I consider 4 of 7 remaining “by and large,” but I’m okay if you don’t.

        I don’t think after this last election that it had a chilling effect locally, nationally it certainly has been written about, but if anything it made many people wake up to needing to not just passively support the system Iowa has for fairly non political judicial selections. I guess I don’t see how any chilling effect regarding the influence of outside groups or popular opinion on a big ticket issue like gay marriage necessarily translates to the case discussed.

        Anyway, an apology if I inflated your succinct comment into an over-extrapolated implication. I mainly had issue with the AP’s unnecessary “all male” label.

  22. “The Knights consulted with their pastor, who agreed that terminating Nelson was appropriate.” The dentist sounds like a real creep. I can’t blame the wife for keeping a close eye on him. I do have to wonder about that pastor, though. How Christian is it to counsel someone to fire someone else (especially in this job environment) when the fault is the employer’s, not the very innocent employee’s? Wouldn’t the advice of a true Christian be a bit different? I seem to recall Jesus Christ Himself saying (Matthew, chapter five): 29 And if thy right eye offend thee, pluck it out, and cast it from thee: for it is profitable for thee that one of thy members should perish, and not that thy whole body should be cast into hell. 30 And if thy right hand offend thee, cut it off, and cast it from thee: for it is profitable for thee that one of thy members should perish, and not that thy whole body should be cast into hell.
    Seems to me, if the pastor were truly preaching The Lord’s Word, he should have told the dentist to cut off his balls. (Or, perhaps, his wife could have done that for him.)

  23. I’m not trying to be a dick here but can’t you just lay someone off, pay them a severance and be done with it?

    What is morally wrong about doing that for any reason? If it is your own company doesn’t it sound fair then to be able to work with whom you choose?

    I never understood why an employer has a responsibility for someones continued employment. Sure, its not nice to lay someone off and I think that in this case its fair for the court to impose that the defendant pays for a few months for people to find a new job.

    1. IIRC, the “good” “Christian” dentist tried to cheap out and fire her on short notice with minimal severance. If he was an honorable guy and he really wanted to get her out of his office, he could probably have made that happen for 6 months’ severance and the promise of excellent references. It would have been a lot cheaper and less painful than going to court and exposing himself to the entire nation (pun intended) as a weak-willed creep who can’t control his urges at work or stand up for himself at home.

Comments are closed.