I'm Too Sexy For My.....Job?

12/22/2012 | Qui Tam/Whistleblower

According to the Iowa Supreme Court, you can actually be too sexy for your job. And, if you are, you can be fired. And it's legal. It all started when Melissa Norton, an Iowa dental assistant started sending and receiving texts with her boss, dentist James Knight. Now, by all accounts Melissa was a good employee for over 10 years and was doing nothing inappropriate; however, Dr. Knight apparently sent Melissa a couple of inappropriate texts... and Mrs. Knight (also an employe of the dental practice) was not too happy about discovering them. 

Mrs. Knight instructed her husband to fire the sexy assistant. At the end of the workday on January 4, 2010, Dr. Knight called Melissa into his office. He had arranged for a pastor from his church to be present as an observer. Dr. Knight told Melissa he was firing her, reading from a prepared statement. The statement said, in part, that their relationship had become a detriment to Dr. Knight’s family and that for the best interests of both Dr. Knight and his family and Melissa and her family, the two of them should not work together. Dr. Knight handed Nelson an envelope which contained one month’s severance pay. Melissa started crying and said she loved her job.

Melissa promptly hired a well respected employment lawyer and filed suit alleging she was fired because she was a woman. Firing a person based on gender is illegal. So is firing a person based on race, national origin, disability, religion, genetic information, or age (if the person is at least 40 years old). Federal law also prohibits most employers from firing someone because that person is pregnant or has a medical condition related to pregnancy or childbirth.

But Knight, and his lawyers, argued he didn't fire Melissa because she was a woman, he fired her because she posed a risk to his marriage because she was "irresistibly attractive." In a 7-0 opinion, Justice Edward M. Mansfield wrote for the all-male high court, “The question we must answer is … 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 Court concludes Melissa was not fired because she was female, "It is undisputed, rather, that Nelson was fired because Ms. Knight, unfairly or not, viewed her as a threat to her marriage."

So, try not to be an "irresistibly attractive" employee.