Iowa’s highest court has ruled that it’s perfectly okay to fire someone for being “irresistible.” James Knight fired Melissa Nelson because both he and his wife viewed her as a threat to their marriage, after his wife, who worked at Knight’s dental office along with Ms. Nelson, came across personal text messages between the two and demanded that Nelson be terminated.
Knight had made comments to Nelson about “his pants bulging” being a sign that her attire was too revealing, and that her apparent lack of a sex life was like “having a Lamborghini in the garage and never driving it.”
The Iowa Supreme Court, comprised of seven male judges, ruled that firing someone because they constitute an irresistible attraction does not, in fact, violate Iowa’s Civil Rights Act on the basis that her termination was not based on her gender, but was instead based on Knight’s emotions.
Sadly, though, this is nowhere near the first time something like this has happened. Back in May, a woman working a temp job at a lingerie warehouse in New Jersey was fired for dressing too provocatively and having breasts that were too large. Lauren Odes was told by her employers, who are Orthodox Jews, that she needed to do things such as tape down her breasts to make them appear smaller, and was asked to wear a red bathrobe over her clothes on one occasion so she would be better covered up.
She and her attorney, Gloria Allred, filed a complaint against the company, Native Intimates, with the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission for sexual and religious discrimination.
Debrahlee Lorenzana was fired from Citi in 2010, also for being too attractive. Her managers went so far as to give her a list of clothing she was not supposed to wear that included pencil skirts, heels of three inches or more, fitted business suits and even turtlenecks. The Village Voice reports that her bosses actually went so far as to say that, “as a result of the shape of her figure, such clothes were purportedly ‘too distracting’ for her male colleagues and supervisors to bear.”
The issue here, however, is that this type of thing puts responsibility entirely onto women to control their male colleagues’ and supervisors’ behavior. It makes it the woman’s fault that the men she works with cannot control themselves, cannot focus when she’s around, and makes it the woman’s fault that she was fired.
This is, in a lot of ways, similar to putting responsibility onto women for outright sexual harassment; after all, if she just dressed more conservatively, men wouldn’t feel as much like making obscene comments or gestures.
In other words, court rulings like that of the all-male Iowa Supreme Court make it so men don’t have to be responsible for their behavior or actions in the presence of a woman they find attractive. It is entirely on women not to be “too hot.”
The Iowa high court believes that James Knight did the right thing for his marriage by eliminating a threat to its integrity, and his attorney agrees. However, Paige Fiedler, who is Melissa Nelson’s attorney, believes that this type of a ruling emphasizes the need for more diversity on the bench. An all-male bench is not as likely to see the daily gender bias and discrimination that women in the workplace go through, let alone how this kind of thing just adds to it.