Melissa Nelson, the dental assistant fired by her boss for being too attractive, gave a television interview about the Iowa Supreme Court ruling that went against her.
On December 21, the court ruled unanimously in a 16-page opinion that James Knight, D.D.S. did not engage in illegal gender discrimination under Iowa law when he fired Nelson because he perceived her to be a threat to his marriage.
In the CNN interview, Nelson claimed she had no idea what changed after 10 years. She worked hard every day and enjoyed her job in the dental practice, “but one day it came to a screeching halt.” Nelson said she is happily married and was not having an affair with her boss. She said she routinely wore scrubbs while on the job, not tight clothing. She admitted that she is still struggling with the court’s decision that the firing, while unfair, was not unlawful. “I don’t think it’s fair or right,” she said.
Under the traditional employment at will doctrine, employees can in general be fired for any reason or no reason as long as it doesn’t violate civil rights or fair employment laws, a personal services or union contract, or an employee handbook provision. Courts can sometimes find a so-called public policy exception to rule in favor of a terminated employee in the absence of a controlling statute, but none was found in the Melissa Nelson case. Those are instances where a court finds that it would be in the best interests of society to give an employee relief.
The court also cited previous case precedents that a firing on the basis of “sexual jealousy” is not per se illegal either.
Nelson’s lawyer admitted that an appeal is unlikely at this time because the case was brought under Iowa law only, and the Iowa Supreme Court has the final word on state law.
Watch Melissa Nelson’s interview on CNN: