Melissa Nelson: Too Pretty to Keep Her Job

by July 21, 2013
filed under Activism

Former dental assistant Melissa Nelson was fired by her boss in 2010 for being too attractive and therefore a threat to her boss, James Knight’s marriage. Melissa filed a gender discrimination lawsuit against her ex-employer on the grounds of being wrongly dismissed from her job after working for dentist James Knight for 10 years. Melissa is a married woman with children herself and her job performance gave no indication that she should be terminated. Before she was fired, she received “sexually explicit text messages from” Dr. Knight (WFBA) and the situation escalated so fast following her termination that she didn’t have a chance to decide how she wanted to react to being wrongfully unemployed.

Moreover, an “all-male Iowa Supreme Court sided with Melissa’s boss in December,” ruling that, as an employer, Knight had the right to fire Melissa because he was ‘”irresistibl[y] attract[ed]’” to her (WFBA). But to everyone’s surprise and the delight of women’s rights and anti-discrimination activists, the court has decided this week that it will reconsider Melissa’s case, withdrawing the verdict siding with Dr. Knight that was passed in 2010. The Des Moines Register says that Iowa Chief Justice Mark Cady signed an order to reconsider the case based on “re-evaluated . . . previously submitted evidence and legal briefs”’ (WFBA). No new evidence will be heard.

Ryan Koopmans, an attorney not associated with the case, states that “the only thing that’s changed here is the public’s reaction to the decision, which was mostly negative (WFBA).”’ He says that there really is no good reason to grant a “rehearing 6 months after the decision was made unless” someone is seriously reconsidering their decision (WFBA). Whether enough opinions have changed to side with Melissa in this rehearing remains to be seen. It’s rare for justices to reconsider cases, as in the past 10 years, only 5 cases have been revisited. What is even more important is what this case says about woman and their perceived role in society.

You cannot fire someone for having a disability or for being the “wrong” gender, and yet Melissa was similarly terminated on the grounds of something she has no control over. When the claim was initially filed, it was at first decided Melissa’s boss had a right to fire her. Her dedication to the job she had held for a decade was not considered, nor was her education and experience as a dental assistant. The matter at hand was the simple fact that Melissa was an attractive woman who dressed appropriately for her place of work and did nothing to entice Dr. Knight to lust after her. As the age-old story goes, Melissa was blamed for being too pretty and Dr. Knight didn’t take any personal responsibility for being attracted to Melissa and merely controlling his biological urges like an adult.

Men have gotten away with this excuse for far too long. If you are a man and you see or work with a beautiful woman, it’s up to you to control your lust and urges and to act like a professional and intelligent human being.

You, and only you are responsible for your actions, particularly when your feelings aren’t reciprocated. It’s not a woman’s fault for being born beautiful or taking care of her appearance and presentation, whether in her personal life or at her place of work. After all, wasn’t Dr. Knight the one sending Melissa explicit text messages?

All in all, this story has a distinctly sixteenth-century feel to it – a woman victimized for merely being a woman, and a beautiful one at that. One would think that our society has progressed beyond this, but perhaps history is doomed to repeat itself. Just as Adam blamed Eve for eating the forbidden fruit in the Garden of Eden, maybe this precedent is something women will always be put up against. It is the same tactic Dr. Knight used on Melissa, citing that it was her fault that he was irresistibly attracted to her. Hopefully public outrage against the court’s decision will change the outcome of the court’s decision and as a society, we can work towards changing a historical precedent against females and that their value or lack of value is merely based on their beauty.


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