Why Would Anyone Defend the Dentist Who Fired His Attractive Assistant?

Back in December, the Iowa State Supreme Court made a unanimous and absurd decision (regardless of whether or not there was a legal basis for it).

The backstory is this: Christian dentist James Knight worked for over a decade alongside his female assistant, Melissa Nelson. Their relationship was purely platonic, but Knight couldn’t deal with the fact that she was attractive (PDF):

In your dreams, Knight. Only in your dreams.

On several occasions during the last year and a half when Nelson worked in the office, Dr. Knight complained to Nelson that her clothing was too tight and revealing and “distracting.” Dr. Knight at times asked Nelson to put on her lab coat. Dr. Knight later testified that he made these statements to Nelson because “I don’t think it’s good for me to see her wearing things that accentuate her body.” Nelson denies that her clothing was tight or in any way inappropriate.

During the last six months or so of Nelson’s employment, Dr. Knight and Nelson started texting each other on both work and personal matters outside the workplace. Neither objected to the other’s texting. Both Dr. Knight and Nelson have children, and some of the texts involved updates on the kids’ activities and other relatively innocuous matters. Nelson considered Dr. Knight to be a friend and father figure, and she denies that she ever flirted with him or sought an intimate or sexual relationship with him.

Dr. Knight acknowledges he once told Nelson that if she saw his pants bulging, she would know her clothing was too revealing. On another occasion, Dr. Knight texted Nelson saying the shirt she had worn that day was too tight. After Nelson responded that she did not think he was being fair, Dr. Knight replied that it was a good thing Nelson did not wear tight pants too because then he would get it coming and going. Dr. Knight also recalls that after Nelson allegedly made a statement regarding infrequency in her sex life, he responded to her, “[T]hat’s like having a Lamborghini in the garage and never driving it.” Nelson recalls that Dr. Knight once texted her to ask how often she experienced an orgasm. Nelson did not answer the text. However, Nelson does not remember ever telling Dr. Knight not to text her or telling him that she was offended.

Feel free to analyze that relationship however you want. But all I’m getting from it is that the dentist just can’t accept that his assistant is anything but a mental sex object for him. It’s creepy, unprofessional, and almost entirely in his own mind (since it seems very clear that she’s not lusting after him).

Anyway, after a decade of working together, Knight fired her because he “feared he would try to have an affair with her down the road.”

As if that was her fault.

As if she had any intention of having an affair with him.

As if he has no control over what his penis does.

Nelson eventually sued him for gender discrimination. She argued that Knight fired her because she was a woman and he never would have done so if she were a man.

After a lengthy explanation of why this wasn’t really gender discrimination and how they’re not condoning Knight’s actions, the Iowa Supreme Court ruled against Nelson:

As we have indicated above, the issue before us is not whether a jury could find that Dr. Knight treated Nelson badly. We are asked to decide only if a genuine fact issue exists as to whether Dr. Knight engaged in unlawful gender discrimination when he fired Nelson at the request of his wife. For the reasons previously discussed, we believe this conduct did not amount to unlawful discrimination, and therefore we affirm the judgment of the district court.

Knight’s own lawyer called it “a victory for family values because Knight fired Melissa Nelson in the interest of saving his marriage, not because she was a woman.”

Right… cue the celebration…

Why do I bring this up now, months later?

Because Christianity Today asked a variety of “experts” (they use that word loosely) whether or not Knight should have fired Nelson.

What’s amazing is that there were people who said yes — not for any legal reason, mind you, but because Nelson was clearly the problem:

“Owners should not have to choose between keeping their business or marriage, and laws should not make it difficult for men to remove temptations that threaten their marriage. Employees do have some discretion over whether they find themselves in this situation.”
Brad Dacus, president, Pacific Justice Institute

We have to walk away from temptation; we just cannot court it, which would be happening if she had remained. The best thing to do would be to show compassion and help the woman find another job so she’s not hurt by the firing.”
Michael McManus, president, Marriage Savers

“The dentist made the right choice in fighting to save his marriage. But we should take this as a cautionary tale. By establishing boundaries at work early on, the situation would not have gotten as far, and that assistant would not have lost her job.
Gary Smalley, executive director of marriage and family formation, Focus on the Family

Talk about treating women horribly… They’re blaming Nelson for getting herself fired. They’re assuming an affair would have happened just because Knight imagined one, as if Nelson would’ve gone along with it the moment he made a move. They’re suggesting that laws should make it easier for men to fire any women they want the moment they have any improper thoughts about her.

This is the same sexist mindset that says you can’t be alone with another woman, even a stranger (especially a stranger), because the moment that happens, BOOM! Sexytimes. Even if the only person tempted is yourself.

….

I understand that there could be temptation in these situations. But if the employers are the only ones feeling tempted, it’s on them to fix the situation by fixing themselves.

As one of the more rational Christian “experts” noted:

“Jesus said ‘If your eye offend you, gouge it out,’ not ‘If you find your neighbor’s eyes to be too sexy, gouge them out.’ Every person will face temptations. Unless the assistant were pressing for a relationship, he should have found other means to keep his integrity intact.”
Russell D. Moore, dean, Southern Baptist Theological Seminary

Finally, someone with common sense.

Even if the Court avoided the moral question by answering a legal one, what the dentist did was pathetic. In his view, it only takes one person to have an affair… and the best solution is to punish someone else for his own misgivings.

(image via Shutterstock)

About Hemant Mehta

Hemant Mehta is the editor of Friendly Atheist, appears on the Atheist Voice channel on YouTube, and co-hosts the uniquely-named Friendly Atheist Podcast. You can read much more about him here.

  • http://www.last.fm/user/m6wg4bxw m6wg4bxw

    Gender discrimination? It affected a woman because, in this case, the action was taken by a man who is sexually attracted to women. Would it be considered gender discrimination if Knight were also a woman?

    I wonder if those who object to her termination, for being sexually attractive and tempting, would also object to her not being hired for the same reasons.

    • TheBlackCat13

      “Would it be considered gender discrimination if Knight were also a woman?”

      Yes. It is making hiring/firing decisions on something related to their gender but totally unrelated to their work performance. I can’t see how that is anything other than discriminatory.

      “I wonder if those who object to her termination, for being sexually
      attractive and tempting, would also object to her not being hired for
      the same reasons.”

      Sure. Why wouldn’t we?

      • http://www.last.fm/user/m6wg4bxw m6wg4bxw

        1. I specified “gender discrimination,” just as it appears in the post above. My question was NOT if it qualifies as discrimination; rather, if it qualifies as gender discrimination, as mentioned in the post.

        2. I don’t know. I simply asked the question out of curiosity.

        • http://twitter.com/spookiewon Pjay (Patti) Pender

          Correct. You did. And, as the court decided, it’s not gender discrimination.

      • http://twitter.com/spookiewon Pjay (Patti) Pender

        No, it wouldn’t. She was fired for being “attractive” not for being female. Would it also be discrimination based on gender if both parties were male? Attractiveness is not a protected category and you can make hiring decisions based on it. The Iowa Court was correct in it’s determination.

        • http://www.last.fm/user/m6wg4bxw m6wg4bxw

          Thanks for posting. I was beginning to think I was the only person to notice this.

        • sane37

          Would Knight have found her attractive if she wasn’t female?
          The Iowa Court should have, but didn’t ask the question.
          The answer = sexual harassment.

    • http://twitter.com/FelyxLeiter Felyx Leiter

      “I wonder if those who object to her termination, for being sexually attractive and tempting, would also object to her not being hired for the same reasons.”

      Good looks are a reasonable excuse not to hire an otherwise qualified candidate? Why the fuck do you think anyone would agree with that?

      • http://www.last.fm/user/m6wg4bxw m6wg4bxw

        I don’t have answers to your questions. In fact, I have been wondering much the same things.

        • http://twitter.com/FelyxLeiter Felyx Leiter

          See, there’s this thing the kids call JAQing off. You’re asking a question and your position is clear (otherwise, why ask such a ridiculous question in the first place?). There’s no logical reason to assume that anyone who thought her termination was unfair wouldn’t also object to her not being hired in the first place simply because she was attractive. You’re also making a damned big assumption that she was fired because of actions on her part, and not on the part of her delusional boss.

          Your choice of words is also revealing and unusually creepy “…for being sexually attractive and tempting…” Seriously, what century are you living in?

          • http://www.last.fm/user/m6wg4bxw m6wg4bxw

            I’m skeptical. I ask questions and think about stuff. My questions are sincere, but I can’t offer any evidence of my state of mind.

            You are welcome to continue to misrepresent me and my comments. I won’t waste time trying to correct each of your mistakes and poor assumptions. You have already decided what I think and what I am. You clearly don’t need my help.

            • http://twitter.com/FelyxLeiter Felyx Leiter

              I clearly don’t need your help since you made your position clear when you claimed she was terminated “for being sexually attractive and tempting.”

              “I ask questions and think about stuff.”
              OK, now I feel kind of stupid. I’m being Poe’d, right?

              • http://www.last.fm/user/m6wg4bxw m6wg4bxw

                No, SFB. I was considering Knight’s position.

                • http://twitter.com/FelyxLeiter Felyx Leiter

                  Even considering Knight’s position, your comment doesn’t make any sense.
                  You know, you can just call me “shit for brains” instead of having Urban Dictionary do it for you. Are the firewalls installed in your middle school computers preventing you from posting swear words?

                • http://www.last.fm/user/m6wg4bxw m6wg4bxw

                  I was merely attempting to avoid having my comment deleted because of profanity. And now, I am officially withdrawing from this exchange. If you like, have the last word. I’m finished.

        • http://twitter.com/maxbingman1 Max Bingman

          Man, if you gotta ask….

      • http://twitter.com/spookiewon Pjay (Patti) Pender

        What I consider reasonable and what is legal are two different things. “Attractive” is not a protected category. You can fire people and not hire them because they are attractive, and the court was right to find that.

        • http://twitter.com/FelyxLeiter Felyx Leiter

          I understand “attractive” isn’t a legally protected class. m6wg4bxw was questioning whether people who were offended by her termination based on her attractiveness would also be offended if she wasn’t hired in the first place because of her attractiveness, which seems pretty obvious. It didn’t make any sense. I wasn’t arguing about the black-and-white legality.

    • coyotenose

      Would it be considered gender discrimination if Knight were also a woman?

      Yes it would. A man who only hires women because he wants eye candy and no competition, or who fires a man because the women employees are friendly with that man, is committing gender discrimination. Ditto for a woman. The parts of Nelson’s appearance to which Knight objected are a function of her gender, and Knight fired her based on those parts.

      From the post:

      “Dr. Knight acknowledges he once told Nelson that if she saw his pants bulging, she would know her clothing was too revealing*.
      On another occasion, Dr. Knight texted Nelson saying the shirt she had
      worn that day was too tight. After Nelson responded that she did not
      think he was being fair, Dr. Knight replied that it was a good thing Nelson did not wear tight pants too because then he would get it coming and going.”

      These incidents, followed by firing her because of fear of temptation, are inarguably gender discrimination. If Knight was a woman and said similar things* and took the same actions, she’d still be discriminating. Here’s the thing: Where a person likes to stick their penis or vagina is not a factor in whether they are committing sexual harassment and discrimination.

      *He admitted to that. That one line should have clenched things against him. There’s not even a question as to whether he was engaging in sexual harassment after that.

      • http://www.last.fm/user/m6wg4bxw m6wg4bxw

        I agree that it was sexual harassment. I agree that it was discrimination. It’s the claim of it being gender discrimination that confuses me.

      • flyb

        Unfortunately, Nelson didn’t bring sexual harassment charges against Knight. In fact, she stated publicly that she did not consider the things he said as harassment, which probably precludes her from ever suing him for that (but I am not a lawyer). Speaking of lawyers, she should have hired a better one.

      • http://twitter.com/spookiewon Pjay (Patti) Pender

        You’re missing the point. He fired her for being “attractive.”, so to be gender discrimination he would need to also fire UNattractive women. The incidents you cite prove it’s INARGUABLY NOT gender discrimination. His objection to her was that she was attractive, NOT that she was female. To be GENDER discrimination you would need to show he found ALL FEMALES attractive in this way and would fire ANY woman, regardless of physical attributes. You’re right that what a person does with his/her penis/vagina is not a factor. But this is inarguably not gender discrimination and the court found correctly.

    • Stev84

      There was actually US Supreme Court case about that. A male worker sued other men for harassment because he was perceived as gay. The court ruled that gender-based workplace discrimination under Title VII covers people of the same sex:

      http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Oncale_v._Sundowner_Offshore_Services

      • http://www.last.fm/user/m6wg4bxw m6wg4bxw

        Thanks for sharing. I must be missing an important detail somewhere because, like this story with Knight, Oncale v. Sundowner Offshore Services seems like sexual harassment, and discrimination because of sexual orientation rather than gender.

    • http://twitter.com/spookiewon Pjay (Patti) Pender

      I object to her firing. He’s scum. But the court made the correct decision, based on the state constitution.

  • Cheri

    I’m not sure I disagree with the court’s decision on this. It is clear that he was making sexual advances with her from early on by commenting on her tight clothing, and she did not act against it. Maybe she was wearing tight clothing, and was getting the attention she wanted. There is nothing in this story that suggests at all that this situation was at all one sided. The outcome would have been much different if the lawsuit was about sexual harassment, but it wasn’t. This isn’t about gender discrimination – he didn’t fire her because there was a man waiting for her job. The way I read this, she was flirting, and so was he. Since it was his practice, she should be the one to go. Moral of the story? Don’t flirt with your married boss.

    • TheBlackCat13

      So a woman can’t wear tight clothing without flirting? She can’t just happen to like a particular style of outfit?

    • http://profiles.google.com/julielada Julie Lada

      “The way I read this, she was flirting, and so was he.”

      …HOW was she flirting? Give me one example of flirtatious behavior on her part.

    • http://twitter.com/FelyxLeiter Felyx Leiter

      You have GOT to be kidding me. There is nothing in this story to suggest she was returning his bizarre and extremely forward advances in any way. EVERY point raised suggests that this was one-sided. Cheri, have you ever experienced sexual harrassment in the workplace? The times I have, I did exactly what this woman did: I kept my mouth shut and agonized silently over the things being said by a superior because I wanted to keep my damn job in a lousy economy. And I don’t have kids to worry about. Please point out where she was flirting. Please.
      “Maybe if she didn’t wear such a short skirt,” right? A fairly large segment of the population considers any clothing that allows you to differentiate between a man’s body and a woman’s body to be “tight.” It’s a completely subjective opinion. Even in the most extreme hypothetical case where she was genuinely wearing unusually tight clothing, the fact that you consider that a greater crime than this: “Dr. Knight acknowledges he once told Nelson that if she saw his pants bulging, she would know her clothing was too revealing. On another occasion, Dr. Knight texted Nelson saying the shirt she had worn that day was too tight. After Nelson responded that she did not think he was being fair, Dr. Knight replied that it was a good thing Nelson did not wear tight pants too because then he would get it coming and going. Dr. Knight also recalls that after Nelson allegedly made a statement regarding infrequency in her sex life, he responded to her, “[T]hat’s like having a Lamborghini in the garage and never driving it,” is truly disturbing.
      “Since it was his practice, she should be the one to go.” Paraphrase: even if you’re breaking the law and being a complete creep, as long as you’re the one in power, you shouldn’t be the one punished.

      • http://twitter.com/spookiewon Pjay (Patti) Pender

        That’s just it. He IS a creep, but he wasn’t breaking the law. The court was correct in that. Not all discrimination is illegal. You’re confusing illegal and immoral. What the dentist did as immoral. It was not illegal.

        • http://twitter.com/FelyxLeiter Felyx Leiter

          He was breaking the law. Sexual harrassment is illegal. I agree it should have been presented as a case of harrassment instead of discrimination, but that doesn’t change the fact that what he was doing was illegal. The court probably made the correct legal ruling, but it in no way excuses his behavior, or Cheri’s above excuses for it. Even if you accuse someone of murder when they in fact beat the living hell out of someone for no good reason, it doesn’t change the fact that what actually occurred was illegal. The court may not find him guilty of murder, but he still unquestionably committed an illegal act, whether or not he was actually found guilty of it. Cheri’s argument has nothing to do with actual discrimination versus harrassment; it’s all about this woman “asking for it” by being pretty and her boss somehow taking it as overt flirtation. She does mention it may have been different if the suit had been based on sexual harrassment, but then goes on to blame this woman for her boss’s bizarre behavior anyway.

    • blasphemous_kansan

      You could have saved a lot of space and just wrote “I blame the victim. If she doesn’t like being punished for being a pretty woman, then she should try being the boss next time.”

      How vile.

    • coyotenose

      You only seem to be familiar with one of the many ways that gender discrimination can occur.

      You’re also making up things.

      You’re also saying that when a person is harmed, it’s her own fault for being a woman.

      • http://twitter.com/spookiewon Pjay (Patti) Pender

        There is no evidence he would fire all women, just attractive women. It’s not gender discrimination, and discrimination against attractive people is perfectly legal. You’re conflating morality with legality.

    • http://twitter.com/spookiewon Pjay (Patti) Pender

      The court didn’t find she was flirting. They found that the discrimination that did occur wasn’t of the illegal, gender-based, kind. It seems obvious they didn’t like having to decide in his favor, but while he did discriminate, not all discrimination is illegal.

      There is a lot to indicate that the attention was one-sided, and even the court seemed to think the dentist was out-of-line and discriminatory. He”s scum. Absolute, unabashed scum. That doesn’t make the court wrong, but it does make you wrong.

      • http://twitter.com/FelyxLeiter Felyx Leiter

        Yup.

    • J-Rex

      “and she did not act against it.”

      Maybe not aggressively, but if you’re obviously coming onto someone and they are showing no interest, they are still telling you “no.” There are certain social norms that prevent people from always voicing their opinions in uncomfortable situations. Sometimes keeping a job is more important to a woman than feeling safe and not awkward.

  • http://twitter.com/maxbingman1 Max Bingman

    It must be weird being this dentist’s wife. He’s announced to the world he doesn’t trust himself not to cheat on her.

    • observer

      Here’s what I find creepy: Apprently this…”person” found his assistance so attractive, he feared having an affair with her, despite (as it seems) she had no feelings for him. So he fired her.

      He can boot his asstiance out the door, but not his customers, specifically his female customers. This man doesn’t trust himself not to have affairs, even going so far as to text lewid comments to Nelson. And as a dentist, he most likely has access to anesthesia. Think about that…

      Heaven forbid he ever has, or will, misuse it, but his attitude in these events have me sending up a red flag.

      In fact, since Dr. Knight has deluded himself to thinking his lust for Nelson was mutual, I (and perhaps Knight himself) fear he’d rape her…

      • redlady1979

        Good grief. The man was honest. He was honest with his wife about the feelings and he was honest with his employee about the reason for terminating her (which he didn’t have to do). The man might be lubricious, but you are going off the deep end if you are suggesting he is evil.

        • http://www.facebook.com/eukota Darrell Ross

          I don’t think what he did constitutes honesty at all. He claims he fired her because he was afraid of having an affair. But he fired her at the urging of his wife after she caught him sending the assistant flirtatious messages.

          Honesty would have been him seeking counseling and allowing his assistant to keep her job. Honesty is most certainly not firing someone because he can’t keep his penis in his pants.

        • Randay

          He is evil by his own standards. Aren’t there those parts in the Bible about lust like,

          Matthew 5:28
          But I say to you that everyone who looks at a woman with lustful
          intent has already committed adultery with her in his heart.

          None of the Xian “experts” seemed to remember that one.

          • armont

            The Bible also tells us to flee temptation. By that logic if he couldn’t fire her he should have closed his dental practice. Win-win!

    • Rain

      http://www.cnn.com/2012/12/22/us/iowa-irresistible-worker

      “But Knight’s wife, who was employed at the same dental office, found out about those messages in late 2009 and demanded he fire Nelson.”

      • Vision_From_Afar

        Now it all makes sense.

    • redlady1979

      Half of marriages end in divorce. There is even more infidelity than divorce. Infidelity happens to most marriages at one point or another. Office affairs are very common. Any person that knows his or her partner is distractedly sexually attracted to an employee or coworker, should be proactive. It is not insulting to talk to your partner about the possibility of infidelity. In fact you peeps reading this should talk to your partners about the possibility of infidelity every couple months as part of regular relationship business talks.

  • JohnnieCanuck

    Perhaps if she had worn a burkha, that would have been enough. Then he could have thanked her for not provoking his uncontrollable lust (jesusandmo.net reference).

    Or perhaps it wouldn’t. Maybe that would just have been playing hard to get and thus inflaming him further.

    Poor, poor man. Everywhere he looks there are Jezebels out to ensnare him. Gold-diggers, the lot of them, just trying to get their claws into a rich dentist.

    • http://profiles.google.com/julielada Julie Lada

      I was thinking along similar lines, due to so many comments on the woman not telling him he was being inappropriate or to stop texting her, etc. First of all, that’s incredibly hard to do and she might be uneasy with confrontation or have feared for her job. But also, I do wonder if he would have just accused her of playing coy, or hard to get, or sending him mixed signals. I’m positive that no matter how she handled the situation, someone would find a way for this to be all her fault.

  • Simon

    As the law stands today, and given the facts of the case, the only way that Nelson would have any recourse is if she was working under a union contract that stated she would have to be terminated for cause. Knight was (unfortunately) within his rights to let her go for whatever reason he wants that is not discriminatory.

    This is a perfect example of why the law needs to change.

    • flyb

      This is what I was thinking. The trick is sorting out exactly how to change the law to prevent something like this from happening.

    • http://twitter.com/spookiewon Pjay (Patti) Pender

      Absolutely correct. The court in Iowa, as usual, made a difficult and unpopular decision that upholds the state constitution, just as they did in Varnum v Brien and Buntemeyer v Iowa Dept of Public Health. I salute the Iowa Supreme Court for it’s willingness to uphold the constitution no matter what.

    • Shells

      I actually disagree. It’s definitely a dick move to do what he did, but this is a voluntary contract between two people; if they both agreed in the contract that she could be fired for any reason, then she can be fired for any reason. There’s no reason government ought to go around forcing terms into private contracts just so that they can prevent the occasional jerk from being a jerk.

      • Pattrsn

        Or protect employees from the lunatic whims of their employers.

      • Glasofruix

        Around where i live a clause like that is called an abusive clause and is considered as null and void if the thing go to court.

    • sane37

      This is why “Right to work” states are bad. “Right to work” laws are anti labor.

  • theatheistpig

    I’d call this guy a pig, but pigs are classier than that.

    • eonL5

      Hey, nice to see you joining in, Atheist Pig! Haven’t noticed you before. Been reading your comic for quite a while, now.

  • David McNerney

    What is with these Christians – they don’t even know their own stupid book:

    “You have heard that it was said, ‘You shall not commit adultery.’ But I tell you that anyone who looks at a woman lustfully has already committed adultery with her in his heart.”

    But the rest of us have to follow and suffer because of these idiotic rules – that’s all fine and dandy.

    • The Other Weirdo

      There is another bit that I exactly remember the reference to that talks about plucking out of eyes if they offend. Own eyes, not someone else’s. So, technically, if he should have blinded himself in order to avoid sin, which, as you say above, he has already committed.

      • http://www.last.fm/user/m6wg4bxw m6wg4bxw

        This reminds me… I’ve pursued the sin-plucking idea with Christians in the past. After they agreed with the general idea, I walked them to the logical conclusion: lust might be inspired by sight, but it is necessarily a mental process. Mental processes are controlled by the brain, therefore the brain — not the eye — must be plucked out, i.e suicide is the proper solution. And, to my surprise, some of those Christians agreed.

        • coyotenose

          But that passage is only a metaphor, unlike the parts with the magic spells.

    • joy

      Does the lovely lady in the picture with you also think these rules you must suffer from are idiotic?

  • http://www.bricewgilbert.blogspot.com Brice Gilbert

    Preparing for influx of comments from atheists that are just as bad as the Christians. One of those issues where some of us haven’t evolved.

    • coyotenose

      Apparently the downvote came from an MRA whiner who wanted to say something, then saw that you’d preempted him. :P

      • Kevin Beach

        Looks like he got you too!

  • Lurker111

    Creepy situation. If the dentist, in his mind, felt he really -was- going over the edge, then firing his assistant may have been the safest thing for her. Not fair, of course, but perhaps safest. (And he should have given her a helluva reference and 6 months of severance.)

  • Pain.Strumpet

    If it’s not gender discrimination, then the Christian dentist is obviously a bisexual. Because then an attractive male assistant would have had him struggling to avoid an affair, and he would need to fire the sexy man.

    • coyotenose

      *thumbs up*

    • http://twitter.com/spookiewon Pjay (Patti) Pender

      No, it would have the exact same effect if he would fail to fire an unattractive female. This isn’t gender discrimination and the court rightly found that. I don’t like the guy either, but the Iowa Court has a history of making unpopular but correct decisions, the majority of which I like. I may not like this guy getting off, but I do like that the court in Iowa really follows the state constitution and doesn’t legislate from the bench. Do you also disagree with the same court’s decisions in, say Varnum v Brien or Buntemeyer v Iowa Dept of Public Health? Those are VERY unpopular decisions, that are also CORRECT under the Iowa constitution.

      • Pain.Strumpet

        “No, it would have the exact same effect if he would fail to fire an unattractive female.”

        Perhaps I misunderstand you, or my original snark wasn’t clear.

        If he would only fire sexy women, and not sexy men, then gender is clearly involved in the discrimination.

        So if his argument is that he didn’t discriminate based on gender, then clearly he’s saying that a sexy assistant of any gender would pose too great a risk to his marital fidelity. So he’s a bisexual Christian.

        And there’s nothing wrong with being bisexual.

        • flyb

          I wonder if this argument would have worked in this case if Nelson’s lawyer used it against Knight. They would have had to prove that Knight was 100% straight and therefore would not have fired an attractive male in the same position. Or is that still not gender discrimination? Sheesh, I’m confusing myself now…

      • Pseudonym

        I think this is important. What the guy did was slimy, and morally wrong, and perhaps illegal (depending on the local laws), but it’s a stretch to call it “gender discrimination”.

        Why Nelson and/or her lawyer chose to challenge it on those grounds is an open question; it might be easier to prove than harassment or bullying.

        Incidentally, one thing that wasn’t noted in the writeup was the voices of relative sanity from the Christianity Today panel:

        Jesus said ‘If your eye offend you, gouge it out,’ not ‘If you find your neighbor’s eyes to be too sexy, gouge them out.’ Every person will face temptations. Unless the assistant were pressing for a relationship, he should have found other means to keep his integrity intact.

        - Russell D. Moore, dean, Southern Baptist Theological Seminary

    • redlady1979

      He replaced her with an other woman. So, not gender discrimination.

      • Pain.Strumpet

        There are two axis lines here: sexiness is one, gender is another. Assuming only cisgendered assistants, there are four options: unsexy women, sexy women, unsexy men, and sexy men.

        The dentist claims that he cannot have a sexy woman as an assistant, because he’d be tempted to infidelity. He could have an unsexy woman working for him without problem, so he claims that he’s not discriminating according to gender.

        But that means that he would necessarily refuse to work with any sexy person, no matter the gender — because he’s not discrimination against gender, see? Which means any sexy woman or sexy man would tempt him to infidelity.

        In fact, any sexy person of any gender would tempt this Christian man. He’s not just bisexual, by his defense. He’s pansexual. How is this not an obvious inference from his argument?

      • ohiolibrarian

        Maybe he is just trying to hook a new fish? Wonder what the new one looks like. Pretty, I’ll bet.

  • http://www.facebook.com/sisterdiscordia Erika Weaver

    This is disempowering to both genders, as well as to Christianity. This is saying, in one broad, generalizing verdict that men have no control of their reproductive glands, nor have free will- that they operate only on autonomic response. This in itself is going against the Biblical concept that mankind was made in God’s image with the power of the will to create reality. This is a rather dangerous trend in viewing the opposite gender, and represents a rather grand severance from God.

  • BeasKnees

    I find it interesting that all of the “experts” that were quoted are men. Do you think they would have a different opinion if it were a woman who was the superior and fired a male assistant instead, and for the same reasons?

    • http://twitter.com/spookiewon Pjay (Patti) Pender

      It doesn’t matter. She was fired for being attractive–that is obvious–not for being female. His wife would not have asked and he would not have fired an unattractive woman. The case isn’t about gender. It’s legal in an “at will” state to fire someone for being attractive. It’s not a protected category.

      • http://www.facebook.com/eukota Darrell Ross

        Pretty sad state of affairs. Women are pushed to become sex objects by society. And then punished for it.

        Laws are written to be interpreted. There is spirit of the law and letter of the law. Constitutional literalists are just as bad as bible literalists, especially with poorly written laws on the books.

        This case demonstrates that sexual discrimination is actually legal in Iowa. Anyone can do it at will.

      • Rick S.

        I’ll consider this non-discrimination when he fires an attractive male assistant. This dentist has made it clear that he cannot be trusted around women unless they are ugly enough to not warrant a second glance.

  • Susan Quilty

    This woman was fired because of a problem in her employer’s marriage–not because she did anything wrong at work. If the dentist’s wife felt threatened, she and her husband could have gone to marriage counseling to work that out. Which would have likely lead to a more lasting solution.

    And, by the way, the woman clarified in a CNN interview that she wore scrubs to work, with either a long-sleeve or short-sleeve shirt underneath. In other words, a required uniform for the job.

    • http://twitter.com/spookiewon Pjay (Patti) Pender

      Unfortunately, that isn’t illegal. It’s immoral, but not illegal. Which is what the Iowa Court found.

      • http://www.facebook.com/eukota Darrell Ross

        Actually, firing someone based on gender bias IS illegal. The Iowa court chose to avoid asking that question and instead asked if it was legal for a wife to get a coworker fired when her husband was the boss.

        The court skirted the question of gender bias. It sucks for Nelson but it should serve as a good catalyst to push back harder against the stupid patriarchy.

  • Gus Snarp

    A clear case study in victim blaming. Knight’s comments on his assistant’s clothing aren’t about actually getting her to dress differently, they’re pure sexual harassment. He repeatedly sexually harasses her and simultaneously blames her for it. Then, when his wife figures out that he’s sexually harassing this woman, both he and the wife continue to blame the assistant for it, as, apparently, do the court and a number of Christian organizations. Disgusting.

    • Redlady1979

      If he locked himself away, everyone would have lost their jobs. He is the dentist and owner. I absolutely believe if they were coworkers in a company, he should have asked for a department transfer, but as the owner he did not have that option.

      • http://www.facebook.com/eukota Darrell Ross

        I don’t understand folks defending this guy. He couldn’t keep his dick in his pants. He obviously needs to seek therapy. Or maybe masturbate every morning to take the edge off.

        His actions are pathetic. He won his court case on a technicality which further demonstrates the sexism ingrained in our society.

        Glad I do not live in Iowa. Not that my current state is much better (Texas).

        • redlady1979

          He did keep it in his pants, they worked together for 10 years. He didn’t sexually harras her or cheat on his wife. Most marriage experience infidelity, so he is ahead of the curve on that issue.

        • Pseudonym

          Perhaps you’re reading a different thread than I am, but the only “defending this guy” that I see here is that he was legally in the right. I don’t think anyone disputes that morally, he was a complete slimeball.

      • Gus Snarp

        It’s a metaphor.

    • Pseudonym

      I don’t know what the laws are where you live, but where I live, “sexual harassment” has a broad definition, but carries two rather important qualifications: the activity must be unwanted (i.e. the person on the receiving end must make it clear that they don’t want it; in larger organisations, this can be done through an intermediary), and it continues after being asked or told to stop. This is crucial, because behaviour that is inappropriate to one person is appropriate to another.

      The writeup makes it clear that they constantly communicated about personal matters, and Nelson almost certainly never made it clear to Knight that he overstepped a boundary. Therefore, it is not “pure sexual harassment”.

      • Gus Snarp

        When an employer tells his employee that she’s giving him a hard on, that’s de facto harassment. Whether there’s a legal case for prosecution or civil lawsuit is not my concern.

        • Pseudonym

          I agree with you, but I stand by my disagreement with the word “pure”. If there was no communication that the behaviour was unwanted and unwelcome, then it’s not sexual harassment, legally speaking.

          (I should add that there is an important proviso. Laws and professional codes of conduct often draw a distinction when there is an “in care” relationship. So a teacher coming on to their student is grounds for termination, even if both are consenting adults.)

    • Sue Blue

      Yes, this reminds me of what slut walks are all about – the problem of victim-blaming. It’s not Nelson’s problem that Knight found her clothing “too sexy” – it’s HIS problem. Unless there was a clearly-stated contractual dress code for the purpose of job safety or function, Nelson had the right to wear whatever she wanted. So he got a hard-on when she wore certain clothes. What if he had a shoe fetish and got all hot and bothered when she wore certain shoes? Does he have a right to dictate her entire wardrobe to suit his personal taste? Why are women always responsible for men’s responses? The decision may have followed Iowa law, but it’s still sending the wrong message. Firing this woman because her dress made this man horny is the same in spirit (if not in magnitude) as blaming rape on the victim’s short skirt or visible cleavage.

  • http://twitter.com/spookiewon Pjay (Patti) Pender

    The dentist is scum, and if your question really is “How could anyone defend the dentist’s behavior?” I don’t see how anyone could. But what the Iowa Court had to determine is his right to terminate her employment. If you’re asking “How could the court uphold her termination?” that’s a very different question. The Iowa Court is really quite liberal–so liberal they constantly face GOP demands for recalls of their election. They determined that the state cannot deny marriage on the basis of gender and found against the State of Iowa Dept of Health twice recently on the issue of same gender married couples and presumed parentage.

    In Iowa employment is “at will.” (As it is in most states.) Not only does an employee not need a reason to quit, an employer doesn’t need a reason to fire an employee. You can’t fire people for legally protected reasons, like gender or race–even sexual orientation is protected in Iowa, but you CAN fire them for any non-protected reason–or for no reason at all. That’s why her defense had to be that he fired her for her gender He CAN require her to wear different clothes to work. He can specify exactly what she can wear to work. He can fire her because she’s attractive, because “attractive” isn’t a protected category. And all the court needs to believe to find in his favor is if they believe that he would NOT fire an unattractive woman. And this guy’s reprehensible behavior provides plenty of evidence that attractive and not female was the reason for her termination, so the court had to find in his favor. This opinion of the court is unpopular with us here, and the Iowa Court doesn’t and shouldn’t care. The vast majority of us feel they made good decisions in Varnum v Brien and Buntemeyer v Iowa Dept of Public Health, and that is unpopular among the religious right–and the Iowa Court does not and should not care. So the question “How could the Iowa Court uphold the termination?” is because the Iowa constitution forces them to.

    I think this dentist is scumand we’re right to say so. But I hope the Iowa Court keeps on making decisions that are right within the Iowa constitution, even if all those decisions aren’t popular, and even if I don’t particularly like some of them.

    • JRB

      Actually, the part you seem to keep missing is that Knight fired Nelson because Nelson was attractive AND female. As you’ve pointed out, being attractive is not a protected status in Iowa but sex/gender is. The question isn’t “would he have fired an unattractive woman” but — all other facts remaining as they are — would Knight have fired Nelson if she had been attractive AND male. If the answer to that questions is “no” (and all evidence seems to indicate that it would be) then Nelson wasn’t fired for the attractive part but for the AND female part.

      • http://twitter.com/butterflyfish_ Heidi McClure

        Exactly so. We don’t know what his standard of attractiveness is. Maybe he finds all women attractive enough to initiate an affair with them. But unless he is bisexual, gender certainly made a difference as to whether he found this person attractive.

      • redlady1979

        He replaced her with a woman. So, it was not based on gender.

        • JRB

          Would he have fired an attractive man under the same circumstance? If not, his decision was based on gender.

    • Redlady1979

      The dentist is not scum. He did not sexually harass his employee (even she said he did not sexually harass her). He did not cheat on his wife, breaking up his marriage, destroying his children’s lives and possibly losing his practice. He did not act rashly. He worked with her for 10 years. And he was honest about the reason he fired her. They live in a right to fire state so he did not even have to give a reason. If he was scum he would have made up a bullshit reason that would not have allowed her to receive unemployment insurance. It is a sad situation, but a lot of things went right, that could have gone way wrong.

      • JRB

        There is exactly zero indication that Nelson would ever have considered having an affair with Knight — even after years of his creepy and inappropriate work place come-ons — so losing his wife because of a physical affair with Nelson seems like it would have been an unlikely outcome.

        Based purely on the comments Knight fully admits to having made, a much more likely outcome would have been that he finally crosses the line into what Nelson would consider sexual harassment. (That “pant bulge” comment alone would probably be enough to convince your average judge.)

        And I can tell you a dozen different ways to end someones employment on good terms when you have to let them go for “personality” reasons — most of which involve finding an appropriate placement elsewhere and none of which involve telling the person that you can’t be around them without thinking dirty thoughts. (Seriously, based on nothing more than my own unfortunate experience with men who behave similarly, it sounds less like he was being honest and more like he was making a last ditch attempt at “reciprocate my feelings and not only will I leave my family but you’ll get to keep your job.”)

  • Stev84

    There is nothing more sexually immature than a fundamentalist

  • TiltedHorizon

    “Knight is a very religious and moral individual, and he sincerely believed that firing Nelson would be best for all parties, he (Stuart Cochrane) said.”

    Calling Knight “religious and moral” for his decision is like calling someone ‘brave’ and ‘courageous’ for the action of “running away, screaming in horror, leaving a trail of piss and shit” from a challenge.

  • J-Rex

    I heard Moody Radio’s discussion about this. They were saying stuff like, “Well it seems like everyone was at fault and it could have been handled a little bit better. If he mentioned that her clothing was inappropriate, she should have started dressing differently.” They neglected to mention what I thought was one of the most important points: his comments to her were completely inappropriate. He was obviously the one crossing the line and harassing her. He obviously has poor judgement and self-control. Why is she being punished for that?

    • redlady1979

      She told him she was sexually unsatisfied. How is that comment appropriate? If I said that to a married man, much less a boss, I would not expect it to be taken as casual conversation.

      • JRB

        “she told him she was sexually unsatisfied”

        No she didn’t. She “made a statement regarding infrequency in her sex life” which is a very different thing. I don’t know why you decided to take Hemant’s rhetorical headline as a challenge but could you please not be so transparent in your twisting of the facts.

        • redlady1979

          “a very different thing”? an apple and a suspension bridge are very different things. my paraphrase is pretty similar :)

          • JRB

            No it isn’t. There are all sorts of people who have occasional or infrequent sex and are perfectly happy with their sex lives. No where in any of the articles does it say that Nelson:
            1) “complained” about her sex life to Knight
            2) told him she was “sexually unsatisfied”

            I know you’re trying to build a narrative that this was a two way thing but even though Knight’s behavior didn’t rise to the level Nelson thought constituted sexual harassment, there is exactly zero evidence in any of these articles that she reciprocated his inappropriate comments.

      • J-Rex

        It doesn’t really give the context for what she said or what the exact phrasing was. It could have been said in a joking, casual way, or it could have been something that didn’t necessarily mean that she was sexually unsatisfied, but he read between the lines, and indicated through his response that that’s what he was thinking.
        Everything else points to him acting inappropriately and her just trying to ignore him. If she liked him back, I would expect to see more examples of her flirting, but that ambiguous one is the only example I see.

        • redlady1979

          She texted him friendly stuff, blurring the boundary between employee and employer. The article states she did not feel she had been sexually harassed. I have experienced sexual harassment at work. I guarantee you, I would not be texting or joking about sex with someone that was harassing me.

          • J-Rex

            She might not consider it sexual harassment, but it obviously was. Still, I also have been sexually harassed at work, and while that may not have been how you acted, that is how it generally works, especially when this person is your boss. People feel the need to act as normal as possible in social situations. That means awkwardly laughing off other people’s sexual comments and trying to pretend they never happened. Also, in my experience, if you do act less friendly to someone who has been harassing you, they’ll notice and insist that it was only a joke, that you’re stupid and overly sensitive for taking it that way. That can be even more embarrassing, so it’s pretty normal to just pretend it didn’t happen.

            Obviously this isn’t ideal. It would be great if we felt comfortable reporting sexual harassment or simply telling someone that you find their comments inappropriate. When we’re not personally in that situation, it’s easy to think that we’d act differently, but when the time comes, most of us don’t. Whether it’s asking the loud talker in the movie theater to quiet down or reporting someone who makes you feel uncomfortable. It sounds like these comments didn’t happen all the time, since she said she saw him as a friend and father figure. It says most of the texts were innocent, so she was probably willing to be friendly and text back in a hope that things would return to normal.

  • Steve Bowen

    I don’t know too much about employment law in the US, I pretty sure he wouldn’t have got away with it in the UK.
    From a moral standpoint he totally loses.
    For what it’s worth I employ a very competent and widely acknowledged to be attractive female assistant. She also wears figure revealing, but not work innapropriate, clothing. I am single, so is she but I do not comment on her appearance, ask her out or otherwise proposition her as it would be… completely fucking unprofessional. How hard is it for someone to keep their mind out of their employees metaphorical pants, self respect.Sheeesh!

  • Miss_Beara

    “Dr. Knight acknowledges he once told Nelson that if she saw his pants bulging, she would know her clothing was too revealing.”

    What kind of conversation is this? This is extremely inappropriate and disgusting. I would never be a patient at this Pervy McPerv’s dentist office. T]hat’s like having a Lamborghini in the garage and never driving it? Gee, how nice you only see women as sex objects.

    • J-Rex

      That’s what really surprises me as why she chose not to approach the case from a different angle and why she insisted that he didn’t sexually harass her. That is undeniably sexual harassment and she probably would have done better if that was her main argument.

      • TheBlackCat13

        Maybe because bringing sexual harassment charges can ruin someone’s career?

  • Redlady1979

    Why would any one defend the dentist? Because she talked to him about her unfulfilling sex life. That is way inappropriate and not just making conversation. He should not have been texting dress code issues to her and texting about her orgasms. The point is, the boundary was blurred, on both sides, for these highly evolved primates. The wife’s desire to chase off a sexual rival was a normal healthy response. I know we are all atheists, intellectuals, and rationalists, but sometimes social justice, public policy, and gender equality campaigns (while great for the macro level) do not exactly work on the mico level. We can wish that he was a different man, with a different sex drive. But I believe him when he plainly said she is too attractive and that is distracting him, from his work and his marriage. Sometimes you just meet someone and they affect you like that. Remember he didn’t fire every female, in fact he replaced her with a female, but he was telling his truth. I think as humanists, we have to accept limitations and quarks in others. The dentist was not malicious, or bigoted, like only hiring males. He just had the hots for that one employee, and no easy solution.

    • sane37

      As atheists, we should stand up for right and against wrong. This man did the wrong thing, then did another wrong thing, then fired the employee to whom the wrong things were done.
      Law or not. He did the wrong thing and hasn’t made it right.

  • http://www.facebook.com/gtpooh Gwenny Todd

    One, it’s HIS office. If he can’t handle her being there, he has a RIGHT to let her go. He gave her a lot of severance pay. Two, he admitted that it was his wife. When did the right of the business owner become second to the people he employs. Sometimes someone has to suffer. It’s sad. But there aren’t always happy endings for everyone involved. She needs to move on.

  • http://www.facebook.com/profile.php?id=100002288387689 Daniel Storm

    This is so stupid; people want people to behave like something other than “people”; then they label it “professionalism”. No, you assholes; its being human (or at least, being “male” simply). Just because you’re in a relationship, doesn’t mean other people stop being attractive. If I was married, regardless that my wife is beautiful (or not), that doesn’t automatically make Adrianna Lima ugly (or undesireable), all of the sudden … People are retarded.

  • http://www.facebook.com/eukota Darrell Ross

    Bah. Assholes like Knight are why it’s hard to flirt with coworkers. I enjoy flirting (with men and women) in the work place. I’m not interested in sleeping with them or any sort of inappropriate behavior, but flirting is fine.

    I wish couples like Knight and his wife would discuss issues and work through them rather than blaming their own marital problems on others.

    Too horny around your coworker? Easy solution for that if you are male: masturbate before work! Well, it’s my experience that it really takes the edge off. Perhaps this doesn’t work for all men?

    I dislike the fallout from an event like this. It implies the Sharia Law nonsense perfectly. I hope Nelson has moved on and finds employment easily enough. Perhaps she should get out of Iowa.

  • http://www.facebook.com/rbskiir Brent Futrell

    This case is bazaar, a xtian Dr, a married xtian, a man who believes there should be no sex without marriage, but openly admits in front of his wife and a public court that his assistant is so hot he may just have to f%*k her, or get rid of her, if she wants it or not, and a court agrees with that. I would love to see her take her case to a higher court.

  • Li Bai

    While I find this man’s actions deplorable, I completely agree with the court’s decision. This is not gender discrimination unless we stretch the definition of that term pretty far. Imagine if the genders had been reversed or if this case involved a gay male doctor and a male subordinate. It’s frankly not an action based solely (or even primarily) on a person’s gender. It’s based on personal attraction. What we have to remember is that appeals courts (of which a supreme court is the highest unless one is in New York) are concerned with the legal question or questions at hand ONLY, not whether the case is fair from a layman’s perspective. This is how appeals work. This is about establishing a legal precedent defining gender discrimination.

    • Carstonio

      I agree that the case for gender discrimination was weak. But Nelson would have a solid case for a civil suit against Knight. I would say she could sue the pants off him, but given his claimed proclivities, that would be unnecessary.

  • Carstonio

    Really dumb question asked purely for rhetorical purposes – if he was getting that turned on by her all the time, why couldn’t he have just rubbed one out between patients?

    I was at a semi-formal event a few years ago and one person in our group was an extraordinarily beautiful woman, whose dress showed considerable cleavage. I was incredibly tempted to look and I pledged myself not to do so. For a few minutes, even though I wasn’t looking I was still looking, if that makes sense. I say this not to characterize myself as a hero or saint, but because I imagined how I would feel if the situation were reversed. My temptation was my problem, not hers. What I perceive from Knight and his defenders is not necessarily lust or temptation but entitlement.


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