A Look Back at the Dental Assistant who was Fired for Being ‘Irresistible’

Employment / Personal Injury / Business

In today’s post, I wanted to return to a case that made headlines back in December 2012. It involved a dental assistant who was allegedly fired for being “too attractive.” If you need a quick refresher about the case, refer to this ABC News story from December 23, 2012. Here are the highlights:

 After working as a dental assistant for ten years, Melissa Nelson was fired for being too “irresistible” and a “threat” to her employer’s marriage.

“I think it is completely wrong,” Nelson said.  ”I think it is sending a message that men can do whatever they want in the work force.”

On Friday, the all-male Iowa State Supreme Court ruled that James Knight, Nelson’s boss, was within his legal rights when he fired her, affirming the decision of a lower court.

“We do think the Iowa Supreme Court got it completely right,” said Stuart Cochrane, an attorney for James Knight. “Our position has always been Mrs. Nelson was never terminated because of her gender, she was terminated because of concerns her behavior was not appropriate in the workplace. She’s an attractive lady. Dr. Knight found her behavior and dress to be inappropriate.”

The way one looks and dresses can impact employment, but is an employer’s decision based on looks and dress discriminatory?

For instance, in this article titled “Looks can kill job prospects,” we see that it has happened all over – from the military to the financial industry. Consider this one case highlighted in the article:

And more recently The New York Post reported that a yoga teacher, Dilek Edwards, had filed court papers over her dismissal from a chiropractic clinic. Charles Nicolai, the owner of the clinic with his wife, Stephanie Adams, had told Edwards that his wife might become jealous of her on account of being “too cute.” (Adams denied the allegations.)

While I personally feel the Iowa dental assistant’s case was discriminatory, it wouldn’t be the first time I disagreed with a court’s decision.  Saying employment decisions based on being “too attractive” are not based on gender seems to me like saying layoff decisions aren’t based on the company’s financial performance.  Employers would do well do have clearly defined dress codes.  And all managers and supervisors should have enough self-control to do their jobs without having to fire someone simply because he or she is attractive.

If you have a legal matter related to your employment, please call our Yardley office at 215-493-8287 or send us an email HERE. We will be glad to help.

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