Dental assistant Melissa Nelson was fired for being too attractive, so she sued her employer. But Iowa's Supreme Court has upheld her firing as lawful.
But the opposite was true for dental assistant Melissa Nelson. Her employer viewed her as "irresistible" and a "threat" to his marriage, so he fired her. And according to Iowa's all-male Supreme Court, that was perfectly fine, ABC News reports.
Nelson worked as a dental assistant for James Knight. And Knight acknowledged that she did a good job. However, it wasn't Nelson's ability to clean teeth that he was most concerned with, it was her revealing outfits and attractive appearance, according to ABC News.
In fact, Knight found the dental assistant so alluring that he started text-messaging the married 32-year-old mother (albeit about mundane topics) and even had to consult with a church leader about his urges.
Finally, after a meeting with his pastor and his wife (who also worked at Knight's dental office), Knight summoned Nelson and fired her by reading from a prepared statement. Knight reportedly told Nelson that an affair would be inevitable if she continued working for him, and for the sake of saving both of their marriages, she was being fired. Knight's pastor was present during this termination speech.
Surprised and outraged, Nelson sued Knight for sex discrimination. Basically, she argued that she was fired for being too "hot" for the dentist.
And for the most part, the Iowa Supreme Court agreed. The court found that Nelson's dress and behavior were not appropriate for the workplace. Unfortunately, the court also found that this had nothing to do with her gender.
If you take a look at the list of legally protected characteristics for employment discrimination, you'll find sex, race, and religion among those traits. But you won't find a person's "attractiveness" or beauty to be a legally protected trait.
Employers can generally fire someone for being ugly or hot. They just get into trouble when this blurs into firing someone for being a woman or man. In the case of dental assistant Melissa Nelson being too attractive for her workplace, the Iowa court apparently separated beauty from sex, and found that Nelson's termination was legal.
- Iowa Supreme Court: It's Legal To Fire Employee for Being Irresistibly Sexy (Slate)
- 'Beauty Bias' is Real and Discriminatory (FindLaw's Law and Daily Life)
- Can Employers Discriminate Against Smokers? (FindLaw's Law and Daily Life)