Iowa Supreme Court to reconsider allowing "irresistible" woman to be fired

In a rare move, the court withdrew its unanimous rejection of a sexual discrimination lawsuit

Published June 27, 2013 8:10PM (EDT)


In an unusual move, the Iowa Supreme Court has withdrawn its unanimous rejection of a sexual discrimination lawsuit filed by a woman whose employer fired her for being an "irresistible attraction" to him. The court will reconsider the lawsuit, but there will be no additional oral arguments or filings.

In December, the court dismissed the lawsuit, filed by Melissa Nelson against dentist James Knight. Knight had fired her in 2010 after she worked for him for 10 years, because Knight feared he would enter into an affair with Nelson if she continued to work for him.

USA Today reports:

Court papers say it was roughly 18 months before the end of Nelson's employment that Knight began to complain about the distractions caused by Nelson's appearance. According to the previous ruling, "Dr. Knight acknowledges that he once told Nelson that if she saw his pants bulging, she would know her clothing was too revealing."

Documents say Knight's wife discovered in late 2009 that her husband had been exchanging text messages with Nelson (usually about child-related matters) and demanded that the assistant be fired.

"The civil rights laws seek to insure that employees are treated the same regardless of their sex or other protected status," the Iowa justices wrote in December. "Yet even taking Nelson's view of the facts, Dr. Knight's unfair decision to terminate Nelson (while paying her a rather ungenerous one month's severance) does not jeopardize that goal."

By Jillian Rayfield

Jillian Rayfield is an Assistant News Editor for Salon, focusing on politics. Follow her on Twitter at @jillrayfield or email her at

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Employment Discrimination Gender Discrimination Iowa Iowa Supreme Court Sexism