From Instapundit, we get an article claiming that a Ms. Melissa Nelson was terminated from her work as a dental assistant for being “too sexy“. The opinion from the Iowa Supreme Court tells a different story – one of a spouse who asked her husband to terminate the employment relationship because it was destroying their marriage. Justice Mansfield reasoned that Nelson’s “but for” argument was insufficient to raise a claim under the Iowa Civil Rights Act; Nelson had not filed a sexual harassment charge, but merely said that if she had been a male, she would have kept her job, ergo, discrimination. Part of the rationale was that Nelson’s employer, Dr. Knight, promptly hired another woman in the same position. (I have to wonder how one can argue but-for causation when the same requirement, applied to the subsequent hire, obliterates the sex discrimination argument. Apparently, the Iowa Supreme Court agrees.)
First, some practical advice on avoiding expensive litigation: if you are a male employer and a young, sexually attractive female employee is dressing provocatively, do not tell her this yourself. You have other women on staff, correct? A matronly type who can say, “Susie, would you please be more cautious about what you wear to the office?” When you comment on the young woman’s clothing, and in doing so, say that it causes a bulge in your pants (slip opinion, pg. 3), you are setting yourself up for a lawsuit.
Why Melissa Nelson did not choose to file a sexual harassment claim is not something I understand – her attorneys are more familiar with employment law and have facts not mentioned in the sixteen-page opinion – but such a lawsuit might have made it past summary judgement (unlike the sex discrimination suit that was filed).
With that, my non-legal advice to women in Melissa Nelson’s position (especially if the wife is part of the office, as is Mrs. Knight): if your sketchy, sleazy employer starts texting you about your orgasms, tight shirts, and sex life, tell his wife to tell the old lech to knock it off. She’s less likely to think that you’re having a covert affair if it’s, you know, not covert and the lady in question is really grossed out by the affair-ish parts of it.
Ultimately, the Iowa Supreme Court did not rule that you can terminate an employee for being sexy; it did not necessarily rule that you can terminate an employee for looking really hot in a low-cut blouse. (The latter would have been a finding of fact, not appropriate for the summary judgement claim.) It functionally ruled that you can fire an employee whose presence infringes upon your marriage and threatens to destroy said marriage, and, in doing so, relied on precedent wherein the women had been having affairs with their married male bosses. Apparently, something in the mind of Justice Mansfield, and the Justices who agreed with him, honed in on the idea that the plaintiff would text her boss to complain that her husband wasn’t sleeping with her, and found those behaviours to be much more in line with affairs and homewrecking than with merely being a young, lovely women with the misfortune to have a lech for a boss.
Update: Jessica Valenti misreads the article (or rather, fails to delve into the details) and offers a profanity-laced tumblr about the incident. My only criticism of the decision is that it was decided on summary judgement, not after trial – it seems like a fact-finder could logically disagree about the application of certain precedents to this situation, or logically disagree as to whether or not Ms. Nelson was fired for being attractive, or fired for being a picometer away from having an affair with her boss. Valenti, like all other women critiquing this decision, also fails to acknowledge the role that Mrs. Knight, the defendant’s wife, played in the case – she asked him to do the firing.