Iowa Supreme Court: It’s Not Sex Discrimination When Male Employer Finds Female Employee’s Attire Provocative – – – and Fires Her

The Iowa Supreme Court issued its opinion in Nelson v. Knight ruling for the employer, James Knight, a dentist, and against his employee of more than a decade, dental assistant Melissa Nelson.  Brought under the Iowa statutes governing sex discrimination, the case is not a constitutional one, even as it draws upon constitutional notions of sex and gender equality.

As the court explained the situation:

Dr. Knight acknowledges he once told Nelson that if she saw his pants bulging, she would know her clothing was too revealing. On another occasion, Dr. Knight texted Nelson saying the shirt she had worn that day was too tight. After Nelson responded that she did not think he was being fair, Dr. Knight replied that it was a good thing Nelson did not wear tight pants too because then he would get it coming and going.


Dressing in the Dental Office, circa 1942

For the Iowa Supreme Court, Nelson did not have a claim for sex discrimination. 

It concluded it was not her sex and implicitly not the way she dressed that was the reason for her termination; instead it was her specific relationship with her employer that caused his wife to be jealous and thus insist on Nelson’s termination.  A special concurring opinion took a somewhat more nuanced view, arguing that while she may have had a claim for sex discrimination, the facts she alleged did not support it: even if  “Nelson was fired because Dr. Knight was physically attracted to her, the attraction and resulting threat to the Knights’ marriage surfaced during and resulted from the personal relationship between Nelson and Dr. Knight” and not from any  “gender-based discriminatory animus.”

Thus the seven Justices of the Iowa Supreme Court – – – coincidentally all men – – – unanimously agreed that Knight’s termination of Nelson was perfectly legal.

[image via]