The Iowa Supreme Court ruled 7-0 that bosses can fire employees they see as an “irresistible attraction,” even if the employees have not engaged in flirtatious behavior or otherwise done anything wrong. Although such firings may seem unfair, they are not considered unlawful discrimination under the Iowa Civil Rights Act because they are motivated by feelings and emotions, not gender, said the judge.
A dentist acted legally when he fired an assistant that he found attractive simply because he and his wife viewed the woman as a threat to their marriage, the all-male court ruled Friday.
This decision is the first of its kind in Iowa and is considered a victory for family values because the dentist fired his attractive assistant in the interest of saving his marriage, not because she was a woman. However, the fired woman’s attorney said the Iowa’s all-male high court failed to recognize the discrimination that “women see routinely in the workplace.”
The fired woman worked for the dentist for ten years, and he considered her a stellar worker. But in the final months of her employment, he complained that her tight clothing was distracting, and even telling her that if his pants were bulging that was a sign her clothes were too revealing, according to the opinion.
He also once allegedly remarked about her infrequent sex life by saying, “that’s like having a Lamborghini in the garage and never driving it.”
The matter came to the forefront when the dentist and the fired assistant, both of whom are married with children, started exchanging text messages, mostly about personal matters, such as their families. The dentist’s wife, who also worked in the dental office, found out about the messages and demanded the assistant be fired. The dentist and his wife consulted with their pastor, who agreed that terminating the assistant was appropriate.
The dentist fired his assistant and gave her one month’s severance. He later told the assistant’s husband that he worried that he was becoming too personally attached and feared he would eventually try to start an affair with her.
The assistant was shocked because she thought of the 53-year-old employer as a fatherly figure and never was interested in starting a relationship.
The assistant filed a lawsuit alleging discrimination, arguing she would not have been terminated if she were male. She did not allege sexual harassment because the dentist’s conduct may not have risen to that level and didn’t particularly offend her.
The dentist argued that his assistant was fired not due to her gender but because her continued employment threatened his marriage. A district judge agreed, dismissing the case before trial, and the high court upheld that ruling.
The judge said the decision was in line with the state and federal court rulings that found workers could be fired for relationships that cause jealousy and tension within a business owner’s family. One such case from the 8th Circuit Court of Appeals upheld a business owner’s firing of a valued employee who was seen by his wife as a threat to their marriage. In that case, the first employee had engaged in flirtatious conduct.
The judge explained that allowing the assistant’s lawsuit would stretch the definition of discrimination to allow anyone to fire over a relationship to file a claim arguing they would not have been fired but for their gender.
The dentist believes that he fired his assistant in order to honor his wife’s wishes. He is described as a very religious and moral individual who believed that firing her would be best for all parties. He still insists that the assistant was not fired because she was a woman, but clearly to preserve his marriage.
It seems that the dentist could not trust himself to avoid temptation. It may not be a case of gender discrimination, but more specifically, an attractive female discrimination. If she were not attractive, this never would have become an issue.
Do you feel that this verdict was fair? After being employed for ten years and described as a “stellar worker,” how can an employee be fired for being attractive and a possible threat to his marriage? To think that a woman can get fired because her employer cannot trust himself to maintain a professional relationship at work, the employee can legally become a victim of the State’s labor laws and be punished for the lustful thoughts of the employer. Maybe he needs marriage counseling?
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