It’s Official: Men Can Legally Fire Women If They Are Attractive

Men can do whatever they want in the workplace.” That is Melissa Nelson’s summary of the Iowa Supreme Court’s second ruling that her boss was within his rights to fire her because he was attracted to her and his wife found out.

Nelson worked as a dental assistant for Dr. James Knight for ten years. He considered her his best assistant. There is no evidence that she came on to him; to the contrary, she says she was never attracted to him and actually thought of Knight, who is 20 years older than she is, as a father figure.

For his part, Knight found Nelson “irresistible.” Yet somehow he managed to resist for ten years. The direct impetus for firing her wasn’t his lust, but his wife’s discovery of texts between the two and subsequent insistence that Nelson had to go. Bizarrely, Knight had his pastor attend the firing.

Also bizarre is the case’s legal history. Nelson’s sex discrimination lawsuit against Knight went through the Iowa judicial system all the way up to the state’s Supreme Court, which ruled in Knight’s favor in December 2012. All of the judges on that court are men.

The strange thing was that, for only the fifth time in ten years, the court decided to reconsider its ruling, withdrew the original opinion, and issued a new opinion that came to the same conclusion. It took this step only after their original ruling garnered broad and largely negative media attention. That is exactly the wrong reason for judges to do anything. They are supposed to be swayed only by the facts of a case and the law, not by public opinion. So much for that ideal.


I wrote about the original opinion for Care2 Causes at the end of last year, noting that making employment a beauty contest for women (in which the winner loses her job) “is exactly the kind of objectification” that prevents gender equality. Men are judged by merit, but women, the Iowa Supreme Court announced, could be judged by pretty much any criterion men chose.

In their second crack at the case, which the men of Iowa’s high court issued this month, they abandoned their previous belief that the key issue was “whether an employee who has not engaged in flirtatious conduct may be lawfully terminated simply because the boss views the employee as an irresistible attraction.”

Their new take on the matter makes a distinction that is so subtle it is pretty much non-existent. The judges acknowledge that firing women because of “gender-specific characteristics” like their appearance can violate laws against sex discrimination — but firing them because of a man’s reaction to their “gender-specific characteristics” is just dandy. Knight got off the hook because, the judges concluded, he was motivated not by her appearance, but by his lust and the threat it posed to his marriage. But Nelson posed no threat — remember that she had no interest in a relationship with Knight.

Nelson argued that “she would not have lost her job if she had been a man” — which is clearly true, and seems to clearly demonstrate that the firing was motivated by her gender. Unfortunately, judges have not seen it that way. They have ruled that “sexual favoritism,” where a boss favors a female employee he is sexually involved with over other women who work for him, is not illegal sex discrimination. The reverse — firing a woman because she is your sexual favorite — is okay too.

All of Knight’s assistants are female, including the one who replaced Nelson. The judges used this fact as proof that Knight didn’t fire people because they were women. If he did, he would have fired his whole staff.

The takeaway message: a man can treat female employees differently, whether better or worse, if he is attracted to them, but not if he isn’t. My advice to women with male supervisors: look as crappy as you can when you go to work. Dress dumpy, don’t bathe, whatever. And act unappealing. I have no idea what that means, but do it. Even better: workplace uniforms — burkas for everyone, female and male. And maybe voice modulators so supervisors can’t even tell which employees are women and which are men. Maybe that is what it takes to safely be female while working, at least in Iowa.

Related Story:

“It is Legal for Men to Fire Women Because They’re Hot”

Photo credit: iStockphoto/Thinkstock


Jim V
Jim Ven8 months ago


Jerome S
Jerome S8 months ago

thanks for sharing.

Kathy Perez
Kathy Johnson4 years ago

I cannot believe this happened modern day.Sure this isn't from the 50s? Ridiculous

Rafael Z.
Rafael Z4 years ago

Because you won your case you're bully on the law, but I think you're extrapolating wrong. The US has not had a woman president while so many other countries have already had women as the nation's leaders, from Sri Lanka to Brazil to Norway, UK, Argentina etc.

Federal laws prohibit ANY individual, including the president, to make decisions on murdering any one, and yet Obama breaks the law EVERY TUESDAY with his KILLING LIST.

The fact is US laws are constantly being broken by the authorities. The Judicial system has become a lap dog of Corporate America even passing laws RETROACTIVELY to save the Telecoms from being indicted for breaking the privacy protection laws with Bush regime.

HSBC bank was caught laundering 800 million dollars of drugs from Mexican cartels, and the bank admitted it publicly and yet Erich Holder the US attorney general stated he "couldn't prosecute them criminally" because it would "disrupt" the world economy.


The facts are, the USA has entered a period of lawlessness for the powerful elites who are cynical in displaying it in all its colors. The last stages of the fall of the most powerful empire is already underway, and the stench and rot is clear evidence of it.

Obama lies openly and with impunity over and over again, publicly about banksters, whistle blowers, torture, drones etc.

Amy Liebetreu
Amy L4 years ago

Beauty is subjective and naturally in the eye of the beholder. I was fired from a job because I refused to have an intimate relationship with the owner's son who also was the accountant in the family owned business. So I went to the EEOC and got a good lawyer who specialized in discrimination suits. I sued and won. But believe me I had the good ole boys at my back. I would have been irresponsible not to sue since they chose to harass me and then fire me. Hence, they interfered with my ability to support my family because of the son's overwhelming desire to control, have sex, whatever the case may be. He did not get his way and that rejection made him angry. The laws are designed to protect us all and if people don't fight to uphold them then what's the point of having them. When people decide to bully and act ugly in the work place towards others then they really are stupid enough to put themselves in the position for lawsuits. In the Nelson v. Knight case - I don't know if we have all of the facts. There might be more to it than meets the eye. My case was a classic case of quid pro quo. This was in violation of federal laws. These laws are designed to protect people from idiots because the God knows the work place is inundated with them.

Scott haakon
Scott haakon4 years ago

The doctor who fired her did so on the instigation of his wife.
Looks count both ways: two men were denied entrance to Saudi Arabia for "being too handsome"

Melania Padilla
Melania P4 years ago

No words....

Eternal Gardener
Eternal G4 years ago

R I D I C U L O U S ! ! !

Peggy A.
Peggy A4 years ago

Disgusting...and unfair

Mia Reh
Mia Reh4 years ago

What is going on in the world???