Ignorant Legislators of the Week: Iowa Supreme Court

It’s 2012, not 1940. Have women advanced at work? http://www.flickr.com/photos/johncollierjr/465511001/

This week our Ignorant Legislator of the Week award goes to an entire group of legislators: the all-male Iowa Supreme Court. In a ruling yesterday, the court answered the question, “whether an employee who has not engaged in flirtatious conduct may be lawfully terminated simply because the boss views the employee as an irresistible attraction.” The answer, according to the 7-0 decision, was “Yes.”

The court upheld a ruling from a lower court in a case where a dentist, Dr. James Knight, fired his dental assistant, Melissa Nelson, because Knight and his wife felt threatened by the dentist’s relationship with Nelson. Nelson worked for Knight for more than 10 years and the dentist acknowledged she was a good assistant. However,  Knight and Nelson had started sending texts to each other outside of work. And Knight, “once told Nelson that if she saw his pants bulging, she would know her clothing was too revealing.

Nelson claimed her boss’ decision constituted gender discrimination. The court’s ruling hinged on the fact that since Knight hired another woman to replace Nelson, the termination was based on the “nature of (Knight and Nelson’s) relationship,” not on Nelson’s gender.

Minnesota Public Radio reported that Knight’s attorney saw the ruling as, “a victory for family values, ” whereas Nelson’s attorney, viewed it as a classic case of discrimination against women in the workplace. She told the Associated Press,  “These judges sent a message to Iowa women that they don’t think men can be held responsible for their sexual desires and that Iowa women are the ones who have to monitor and control their bosses’ sexual desires.”

Yet another double bind dilemma for women at work: look too good, and you could be fired for distracting your boss. Don’t look good enough, and you may not earn as much as your more beautiful peers, if you get hired at all.



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