Too sexy for one's job?

An interesting court case came to a controversial conclusion on December 21.


The Iowa Supreme Court ruled on Friday that employers in the state can legally fire workers they find too attractive. In a unanimous decision, the court held that a dentist did not violate the state's civil rights act when he terminated a female dental assistant whom his wife considered a threat to their marriage.

The assistant, Melissa Nelson, who had worked for James Knight for more than 10 years and had never flirted with him, according to the testimony of both parties, sued, saying she would not have been fired if she were a man.

The seven justices, all men, said the basic question presented by the case was 'whether an employee who has not engaged in flirtatious conduct may be lawfully terminated simply because the boss views the employee as an irresistible attraction.' The high court ruled that bosses can fire workers they find too attractive and that such actions do not amount to unlawful discrimination.

The legal aspect aside, was it morally justifiable for the dentist to fire his assistant because she was too much of a temptation for him? (And he apparently feared the wrath of his wife.)

I say no.

Now, I do believe there could have been scenarios whereby he would have been morally justified in doing so. For example, if Mrs. Nelson had been blatantly trying to seduce Mr. Knight, then yes, he would have been morally justified in firing her. But such wasn't the case. In fact, according to the article excerpted above, both parties agreed that Mrs. Nelson never even flirted with Mr. Knight.

Actually, it was Mr. Knight who made sexually-suggestive remarks to Mrs. Nelson, at least one of which was included in an exchange of texts between the two. When Mr. Knight's wife found out about the texting, she demanded her husband fire Mrs. Nelson because she considered Mrs. Nelson a threat to their marriage. Granted, we don't have a copy of the texts, but if the article at is accurate, Mrs. Nelson's texts apparently didn't constitute flirting.

It was also reported that Mr. Knight repeatedly complained to Mrs. Nelson about her workplace attire, which he claimed was inappropriate and too revealing. She denies the allegation, saying she wore scrubs. (Source)  Thus, unless she insisted on showing up to work dressed like, say, Lady Gaga during a performance, I don't see her workplace attire as a legitimate reason to fire her.

After being fired, Mrs. Nelson sued Mr. Knight, which she had a moral right to do in this particular case. Obviously, the courts decided that Mr. Knight was legally justified in firing the dental assistant.

I guess sometimes it pays to be ugly-literally.    

If you experience technical problems, please write to