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):
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)