Jerry Davich: Legal to fire ‘irresistible’ employees? Really?
JERRY DAVICH July 16, 2013 10:14PM
Updated: August 19, 2013 1:47PM
The Iowa Supreme Court ruled unanimously last week that a dentist did not discriminate against a female assistant after he fired her for being “too attractive.”
Really? Yes, you read that correctly.
The state’s highest court (all men, by the way) ruled that Dr. James Knight did not discriminate in firing dental hygienist Melissa Nelson after she worked for him for more than 10 years. Knight claimed he found Nelson too attractive, even irresistible, and that his wife viewed the woman as a threat to the couple’s marriage.
“The fact of the matter is Nelson was terminated because of the activities of her consensual personal relationship with her employer, not because of her gender,” Chief Justice Mark Cady wrote in the ruling.
“We ultimately conclude the conduct does not amount to unlawful sex discrimination in violation of the Iowa Civil Rights Act,” Justice Edward Mansfield wrote.
Nelson told the court that if she were a man, she would not have been fired, citing a double standard that still permeates our work culture, among other situations. Her attorney, Paige Fiedler, argued that the other court’s decision was a historical setback for gender equality in the workplace. I agree completely.
As far back as 2009, Knight and Nelson apparently began texting each other, though most text messages were work-related. Soon, though, some messages were more “suggestive,” such as him asking her how often she had an orgasm. (Nelson did not reply to that text.)
Knight’s wife later learned about those texts — busted, Dr. CheaterChump! — and she insisted that her husband fire Nelson. Before firing her in 2010, he complained, “her clothing was too tight, revealing and distracting,” the decision said.
Nelson has always denied wearing anything inappropriate in the workplace.
So, does this mean that a male employer can terminate a female employee if he’s attracted to her and she doesn’t reciprocate sexually or otherwise? Doubtful, considering the detailed circumstances of this case.
But a precedent has been set and it’s certainly something for women to keep in mind with their “playful” banter and “harmless” flirting in the workplace. I’ve seen such male-female interaction in every job I’ve ever had, and we all know — wink, wink — that it’s quietly accepted, too.
Until the boss’s wife finds out, which doesn’t happen often enough, I say. Most men in what they perceive as positions of power at work are typically castrated in the home, which explains their sexual power plays with other (typically younger and more attractive) women in the office.
I say forget going to court for a solution in these he-said, she-said situations. Instead, just go to the guy’s clueless wife and then watch how fast he gets judged, convicted and imprisoned in his screwed up marriage. I’m sure his punishment is about as painless as a double root canal without anesthesia.
Hazards of first class
The Asiana Airlines jet crash at San Francisco International Airport earlier this month was a rare, even freak accident, but it still reignites a fear of flying in some of us.
Of all the news coverage of the crash, two things jumped out at me.
First, only one in 1.2 million flights ends up in an accident, and the survival rate in U.S. plane crashes from 1983 to 2000 was 95 percent, according to the National Transportation Safety Board.
With this in mind, there are precautions that passengers can take for such emergency situations. Such as, obviously, sitting as close as possible to an exit. But also by sitting in the rear of the plane, which is generally safer, experts say.
Second, the impressive fact that the entire country of South Korea feels “shamed” and “embarrassed” about the crash, from the airline’s chief to the president to the general public. They view the crash as a poor and dishonorable reflection on their nation.
I find that amazing. Could you imagine Americans having such a reaction to a similar crash or any other national disaster?
National ‘ink blot’ test
My previous column on the Zimmerman-Martin case and verdict prompted many readers to add their two cents on this touchy topic, and dozens more comments on my social media sites. Here are two responses that echoed many others.
“Hi Jerry, after reading your column today I feel I have to voice my opinion,” wrote Juanita R.
“To me Zimmerman was guilty, firstly when he decided to take a gun on neighborhood watch. Secondly, he was again guilty when he disobeyed the orders to not follow the subject. Thirdly, he was guilty when he opted to get out of the car and confront Martin. And lastly, he is guilty, guilty, guilty.”
“The encounter between Trayvon Martin and George Zimmerman was an unfortunate, isolated incident between an idiot and a punk,” wrote Art Y. “Why are the liberals, blacks and media trying so hard to make it more than it was?
Art, I think it’s because the case aptly serves as a “Rorschach” ink blot test for all of us, with varying opinions based on our life experiences, perceptions and prejudices. Our country, however, is not stained by ink, but by blood, yet again.
‘I don’t know’
There are three words I don’t hear often enough in daily conversations with others, especially those people who have an answer for every question.
Those magic words are, “I don’t know.”
I recently asked a colleague if he is an atheist, considering his earlier remarks (or lack thereof) about faith, religion and spirituality. His candid response was immediate: “I don’t know.”
How refreshing, I told him. Too many of us, myself included, have answers (even if they’re wrong) for everything, from religion and politics to trivia and child-rearing.
Our exchange reminded me of the movie classic, “Fast Times at Ridgemont High,” with Sean Penn as surfer-dude Jeff Spicoli and Ray Walston as his straight-up teacher, Mr. Hand.
Mr. Hand: “Why are you continuously late for this class, Mr. Spicoli?”
Spicoli (after a long pause): “I don’t know.”
Mr. Hand (after writing and underlining those three words on the blackboard): “I like that. I don’t know. That’s nice. ‘Mr. Hand, will I pass this class?’ Gee, Mr. Spicoli, I don’t know!”