Court shields creep

The following editorial recently appeared in the Chicago Tribune.

Being physically attractive, research has shown, pays off in career terms. As a rule, a good-looking person finds it easier to get a job and gets more raises than someone on the homely side. It may be unfair, but a pleasing appearance is usually a financial asset.

That fact won't be much comfort to Melissa Nelson, a dental assistant whose experience is quite the opposite. The 32-year-old married mother of two had worked more than a decade for dentist James Knight, who said she was the best assistant he ever had. But in 2010, he fired her because he found her to be, in the words of the Iowa Supreme Court, an "irresistible attraction."

Mr. Knight says he was sometimes distracted by apparel that showed off her figure too well. Ms. Nelson, for her part, says she wore scrubs, and never dressed inappropriately. If anyone misbehaved in this case, it seems to have been the dentist. He admitted he once told her, "if she saw his pants bulging, she would know her clothing was too revealing." He said her failure to have frequent sex was "like having a Lamborghini in the garage and never driving it." She recalls he sent a text message asking how often she had orgasms.

Mr. Knight's wife, who also worked in the Fort Dodge dental practice, was not pleased to learn that he was texting with Nelson and demanded that she be fired as "a big threat to our marriage." The dentist complied.

She sued, claiming he had violated state law by discriminating against her on the basis of gender; contending she "did not do anything to get herself fired except exist as a female." The Iowa Supreme Court ruled unanimously that even if Mr. Knight behaved badly, he didn't engage in gender discrimination. The dismissal, the justices found, was "driven entirely by individual feelings and emotions regarding a specific person."

This is one of those cases where the specifics of the law seem to be at odds with basic fairness. If Mr. Knight wasn't guilty of illegal discrimination, he was certainly guilty of being a creep and a boor.

Maybe he needs to find a new place to apply his Novocain.

The editorial board is composed of the publisher and four journalists of varied editing and reporting backgrounds. The board's discussions and information gained from its meetings with political, civic, and business leaders drive the institutional voice of The Day, as expressed in its editorials. The editorial department operates separately from the newsroom.


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