Iowa’s Supreme Court reaffirmed its ruling that dentist James Knight was within his legal rights when he terminated a longtime assistant after growing too attracted to her. The court, which came to the same outcome it did in this case last year, clarified that bosses can fire employees that they and their spouses see as threats to their marriages.
The ruling upholds the discrimination lawsuit that Melissa Nelson filed against Knight, who fired his assistant of a decade after his wife learned of text messages between the two.
Chief Justice Mark Cady added a concurrence Friday, joined by two other justices, to further explain the court's rationale.
"Nelson was terminated because of the activities of her consensual personal relationship with her employer, not because of her gender," Cady wrote.
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“The decision quite honestly … is not stepping away in any way from the decision last December,” Knight’s attorney Stu Cochran said. “Our laws were never intended to create an environment where every type of event or unfairness in the workplace results in a lawsuit.
“Bad behavior is not equal to illegal behavior.”
The 33-year-old Nelson has said she viewed Knight, who is two decades older, as a father figure and never sought a romantic relationship with him. Cady said that may be true, but that they still had a relationship that went beyond the "reasonable parameters of workplace interaction."
Cady said Nelson once told Knight that she wasn't having much sex and he responded, "That's like having a Lamborghini in the garage and not ever driving it." The dentist had also texted her asking how often she experienced orgasms (she did not respond) and complained that her body distracted him at work, once telling her that if she saw his pants bulging, that was a sign her clothes were too revealing. Knight also gave Nelson more favorable treatment than other workers, and she once texted him that she continued working there "because of you," he noted.