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Iowa Supreme Court Decides to Re-evaluate “Irresistible Employee” Case
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This week, in a rare move, the Iowa Supreme Court decided to reevaluate an already published unanimous decision issued in a case in December. The matter involves a sexual discrimination lawsuit filed by a woman employee whose ostensible fault for losing her job was that her boss found her to be “irresistible.”

Melissa Nelson worked for 10 years for James Knight, a dentist, before she was fired in 2010 after Knight confided to Nelson’s husband that “she’s a big threat” to Knight’s marriage. Dr Knight was also so well-behaved, that the previous ruling of the Iowa Supreme Court mentions, “Dr. Knight acknowledges that he once told Nelson that if she saw his pants bulging, she would know her clothing was too revealing.”

Hmm.

  
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I guess in many civilized countries this would come under sexual harassment in the workplace, but Nelson, after being fired, chose to file a case of termination by sexual discrimination. And that took the matter down an alley where it was difficult for the court to rule in Nelson’s favor.

In their December opinion, the unanimous panel observed, “The civil rights laws seek to insure that employees are treated the same regardless of their sex or other protected status … Yet even taking Nelson’s view of the facts, Dr. Knight’s unfair decision to terminate Nelson (while paying her a rather ungenerous one month’s severance) does not jeopardize that goal.”

It is surprising, how so too often, judges keep disregarding the evergreen judicial maxim of “where there is a wrong, there is a remedy.” Even though the Iowa Supreme Court recognized the “unfair decision” it was content to say that its hands were tied by words of the statute.

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However, it was on record that the lawyer who argued on behalf of Nelson during appeal sensed the matter had been moving on the wrong track, and tried to bring it over to the right lane by drawing attention to the ‘sexual harassment’ angle.

During appeal, he argued “if Dr. Knight would have been liable to Nelson for sexually harassing her, he should not be able to avoid liability for terminating her out of fear that he was going to harass her.”



The case and the decision of the Iowa Supreme Court garnered enough public attention to lead the court to have a fresh look at the matter.

On Monday, Chief Justice Mark Cady signed the order for resubmitting Nelson’s lawsuit for reconsideration though the order mentioned that there would be no further oral arguments or additional input from Knight. The appeal would be reevaluated on material that has already been submitted and with the court.



 

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