The New York Times
A dentist acted legally when he fired a longtime assistant because he had grown too attracted to her and worried he would try to start an affair, the Iowa Supreme Court has reaffirmed.
Clarifying its rationale for an earlier ruling, the all-male court found bosses may fire employees they and their spouses see as threats to their marriages. The court said such firings were not sex discrimination because they were motivated by feelings, not gender.
The case was brought by Melissa Nelson, 33, against Dr. James Knight of Fort Dodge, Iowa, who fired her after his wife learned of text messages between the two. Ms. Nelson’s lawyer had asked the court to reconsider a December decision, in which the justices said the 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.”
That language was removed from the opinion. Chief Justice Mark Cady wrote Ms. Nelson was fired “because of the activities of her consensual personal relationship.”
“This case is a classic reminder that employment laws don’t always protect employees from what may be unfair decisions, or even decisions based on false information and/or assumptions, by their employers, said Rose Law Group employment law attorney David Weisman. “The law only prohibits employers from taking adverse employee actions based on specifically defined criteria such as race, gender, age, religion etc. or specific conduct such as whistleblowing.
“Absent such a specific statutory, contractual or common law protection, employers are free to make employment decisions as they see fit – at least from a legal perspective,” Weissman said.
“That said, even though the employer prevailed in this case, situations involving workplace romances can be very tricky for employers and it is always advisable to consult with counsel before taking action against an employee because of such relationships.”
If you’d like to discuss employment or health care law, contact David Weissman, firstname.lastname@example.org