Last December, Melissa Nelson lost a case at the Iowa Supreme Court in which she had filed for gender discrimination against her ex-boss. What were the charges? She was fired because she was simply too hot, and therefore, an obvious threat to her boss’s marriage.

You might find yourself asking, "Wait, WTF?"

Did Nelson ever fool around with her boss, or anything else inappropriate? No. This was simply…visual.

That’s right: Nelson wasn’t fired for doing anything wrong at all – except, of course, for being born a woman and looking the way that she does.

Doesn’t that sound like open-and-shut discrimination?

Unfortunately, the all-male Iowa Supreme Court didn’t agree. They ruled 7-0 that a boss could legally fire an employee who was an “irresistible attraction,” stating that their decision was unaffected by gender.

Nelson, who had spent 10 years as a dental assistant to Dr. James Knight, was flabbergasted by her termination. She had considered Knight a “father figure” and never harbored any romantic feelings towards the man, who was seemingly happily married. However, towards the end of her decade-long commitment, Knight did start to exhibit creepy tendencies. 

Nelson says that Knight started sending her text messages, most of which were harmlessly mundane, but one which asked “how often she experiences orgasm,” to which she never replied. 

Court documents reference Knight discussing Nelson’s sex life, which he speculated was rather infrequent, saying, “That’s like having a Lamborghini in the garage and never driving it.” Knight’s wife, who later saw the text message exchanges, encouraged her husband to fire his assistant as well.

Nelson, who is married with children, expressed her surprise and remorse: “I didn’t understand it at all. I thought that what was I was going to be doing for the rest of my career.”

There was significant outrage on the part of anti-discrimination activists and women’s rights activists. How can the Court possibly detangle gender from this case? Gender dictates that women are victim to the wage gap, that women hold less executive positions, that women are somehow held accountable for the desires of men – therefore, this ruling makes it easier for men to fire women, and for men to treat women as objects. 

So what an unexpected and pleasant surprise it was this week when the Iowa Supreme Court announced that they will be reconsidering Nelson’s case.

As the Des Moines Register reports, Iowa Chief Justice Mark Cady signed an order on Monday, submitting the case for consideration by the court.

We don’t know if Nelson’s ruling will be overturned – it might just be that one of the judges have changed their mind, which wouldn’t affect the outcome at all. Des Moines attorney Ryan Koopmans explains, “The only thing that’s changed here is the public’s reaction to the decision, which was mostly negative…There really is no reason to grant rehearing six months after the decision was made unless someone is seriously considering changing their mind. I think we’ll definitely see at least one opinion in favor of Melissa, the question is whether it is the majority opinion or dissenting opinion.”

It seems like only a small victory, but keep in mind that the reconsideration of cases is very, very rare. A spokesperson for the Iowa Supreme Court estimates that in the last 10 years, there have only been about 5 reconsidered cases.

Nelson’s attorney Paige Fiedler speaks on behalf of her client: “I can tell you she was surprised and delighted by the news…Not only does this breathe new life into her court case, it eliminates what many of us believed was a harmful legal and misguided precedent.” 

Source: Good Morning America

Photos via ABC News, Huffington Post, rapgenius

Tagged in: work place discrimination, women's rights, women in the workplace, Supreme Court, politics, objectification, news, iowa   

The opinions expressed on the BUST blog are those of the authors themselves and do not necessarily reflect the position of BUST Magazine or its staff.




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