The Iowa dental assistant who sued her former employer for discharging her because of his attraction to her has lost her discrimination case in the Iowa Supreme Court. Melissa Nelson had worked for dentist James Knight for ten years before Knight decided to let her go, citing their working relationship as a detriment to his marriage.
The media frenzy surrounding this case is understandable based on the somewhat-sensational facts of the case; however, there may be a few angles to the story that have been unreported by mainstream news organizations.
In the first place, the media characterization of the case is a bit one-sided. A quick Google search of recent news articles reveals provocative language such as “employee fired for being hot.” Such wording conjures up an image of dentist Knight as a lecherous harasser who blamed his assistant for what was, essentially, his problem. In light of current news coverage, it’s no surprise that the dentist has recently come under fire on Yelp, accruing some strongly-worded negative reviews. However, a closer look at the facts reveals that, while Knight had indeed complained to Nelson about her provocative dress, at the time of her termination, he took responsibility on himself, later telling her husband that she had done nothing wrong.
Second, while the dentist’s apparent lack of confidence in his own self-control (citing that he feared he would have an affair with her down the road if they didn’t part ways) may seem, at first blush, rather despicable, it should be remembered that he ultimately made the decision to terminate her for the sake of his own marriage. In an age where the latest sex scandals and high-profile affairs make headlines on a regular basis, where even pastors and public servants are not immune, isn’t it somewhat refreshing to see a man make a tough decision for the sake of his family – not only his family but hers as well? Nelson, who is also married with children, had apparently confided to Knight that her sex life was infrequent, and the two had been exchanging personal text messages for some time before her termination. With this context, it makes sense that Knight should base his decision on a concern for both of their families. Furthermore, Knight acted at his wife’s request and on advice from his pastor. While Nelson is understandably frustrated with the circumstances and feels that they are “unfair,” would it not be equally unfair to expect a man to prioritize the emotions and well-being of his employee above the emotions and well-being of his own wife?
Finally, it is important to remember that, in our country, employers still retain the fundamental right to hire whomever they wish. While discrimination laws purport to promote fairness in the workplace, it is impossible for any legal system to entirely remove circumstances which may be seen as “unfair.” Even if it were possible, would it not require such an infringement of liberty so as to neutralize any positive effect of such laws? While America remains free, employers like Knight have the ability to hire and fire who they choose. If necessary, they may terminate employees for the protection of their own families.
Regardless of one’s personal opinion of James Knight, these facts should at least be taken into consideration. Knight put his marriage above and beyond anything else, which has gained my respect for him. While he should have taken steps to protect his marriage earlier in the situation with Melissa Nelson (not texting about non-work subjects, discussing each other’s sex life, etc.), at least he untimely took action to protect both his and Nelson’s marriages.
Rebecca works as a blogging assistant for Dental Implants Harley Street in London, England. The dental clinic provides denture services including crown and bridge replacement.