Woman fired because her boss found her too attractive

Actually, in reality, Melissa Nelson, a dental assistant in Iowa for ten years, was fired by her boss and owner of the dental practice because he found himself being too attracted to her. This is different from being too attractive. It is normal to find someone to be one of the most beautiful people you’ve ever seen, yet not feel an irresistible desire towards them. 

melissa_nelson_dental_assitant_iowa

Melissa Nelson

But Dr. Knight did. Nelson and Knight had not strayed from their spouses, but their friendship had grown to a point they were texting each other on more of close friendship basis rather than employer-boss relationship. Apparently Dr. Knight had been making comments to Nelson that her clothes were too tight and he found them distracting, so she should not have been completely ignorant towards her possibly being attracted to her. If so, then damn, she is naive.

When Dr. Knight’s wife, who also works at his dentistry practice, found out about the too-friendly texting, she told her husband that he needed to fire Melissa Nelson. After the couple consulted with a senior pastor at their church, Dr. Knight agreed that he needed to terminate Nelson.

I’m writing about this not because of the lawsuit Nelson sought after being terminated, but because I find this a very perplexing situation where there really is not right answer, nor a wrong answer.

furiousIn being a woman – at least the last time I checked anyway (haha) – I most definitely can understand how Melissa Nelson felt. I would be beyond furious! LOL… I have a visual image of myself looking just like this dude to the left – and hearing a train horn in the background for affect when I lose my cool. I have lost jobs in the past, but they were due to either poor performance, or some financial reason. Never for how I looked.

“I think it is completely wrong,” Nelson said. ”I think it is sending a message that men can do whatever they want in the work force.”

Well, Mrs. Nelson, in regards to that statement, every state but Montana is an at-will employee state, which means your employer can fire you for any reason, or no reason at all.*

Doesn’t seem fair to the employee, right? It isn’t, but let’s look at this from the other point of view — the doctor’s.

This is Dr. Knight’s practice. Owner, proprietor, dentist, and so on. If you do not own your own business, then just imagine you do. My business, my rules – within reason, or course. Let’s keep some common sense in order here.

Hugh-hugh-jackmanIf I find that I am becoming so attracted to someone who works for me that it may cause some sort of future problems, perhaps ending in a divorce from my spouse, I would feel that I have every right to keep my business functioning with an atmosphere that I am comfortable with. After all, it is my place. I want to be comfortable in my own business. Isn’t one part of Capitalism all about starting a business and making a success out of it? If I’m continually distracted by a male employee that I find to be like Hugh Jackman, and to the point my attraction is disrupting my performance and ability to run my company, I would have to make some sort of decision and change.

All-in-all, believe it or not, especially being such a pro-women’s rights person, I have to side with the dentist here — but only because I do not see this as an attack against women in general. Dr. Knight has no problem having female employees. He is just struggling trying to keep his pants zipped due to one specific person – and since he is heterosexual, then that would be a woman. If Dr. Knight was gay, then he would be attracted towards a man. So this has nothing to do specifically due to gender.

Even though Dr. Knight’s wife was probably in the background threatening divorce if he didn’t fire Nelson, the doctor did admit to himself that he is human and not all-powerful. He loves his wife, wants to save his marriage, so sometimes the best thing to do is not the easiest thing to do. In all honesty, I wouldn’t want to work in a place if I knew my boss had that strong of a desire for me.

However, I do believe he could have handled this somewhat differently. Exactly how, I’m not really sure. My first thought was to change Melissa’s job. Put her at the front desk or somewhere he is not constantly around her. But he would have needed to do so before this attraction all came out in the open. His wife will always feel some negativity towards Nelson and that just creates a hostile work environment. What other way could Dr. Knight have handled this situation? Perhaps give her a 30-day notice of termination, but during that time, he will help her find another job? Don’t laugh. This actually just happened with me.

After working for my former company for five years, four of which I was Director and helped build the company, the owner found herself in a financial pinch (she is horrible with budgeting and tends to spend too much on herself). She had to cut back somewhere or would no choice but to file bankruptcy and possibly close her business. I happened to be the highest paid employee, but the hourly people technically can perform all the work I did. They just wouldn’t have the title or the more freedom to make company decisions like I had. But that’s not necessary to keep the business running.

Little did I know, while I’m faithfully clicking away on my computer, the owner – who I will call “H” – has been making phone calls to other companies to see if they would be interested in hiring me. “H” did not want to toss me out on the street as she felt like I deserved better than that due to my work history for her. She decided to make this at least painful as possible. Find a place for me to go.

Woman_with_a_Knife_in_Her_Back-clipartOf course, when she pulled me in her office, I was angry, and boy, did I feel like I just had a huge knife stabbed in my back. Then she told me that she has found another job for me – which actually pays twice what she is paying me. I just needed to contact the owner and officially apply and interview for the position. To wrap it up, I got the job, and am happier than I have ever been with a job before. “H” could tell I was burning out so she ended up doing for me what I couldn’t do for myself.

Naturally, these are two different circumstances, but an employer can be a caring human being and help an employee find another job should the need arise to let them go.

By the way, the Iowa state courts sided with the employer. However, Melissa Nelson is going to get another chance in court. Iowa’s Supreme Court made an extremely rare move this week by withdrawing its unanimous decision that Knight had not violated the law. This was on the news this morning and how I found out about this story as I missed it back in December 2012 when the judgement was made.

So, what do you think? I can see both sides of the issue and just do not think there is either a right or a wrong answer. But I do believe it could have been handled better.

References:

IBT: Melissa Nelson, Iowa Dental Assistant Fired For Being ‘Irresistible,’ To Get Second Chance In Court
Huffington Post: Melissa Nelson, Dental Assistant Fired For Being Attractive, Disputes Court Ruling That Sided With Boss
ABC News: Melissa Nelson: Dental Assistant Fired For Being ‘Irresistible’ Is ‘Devastated’
*AOL: Biggest Myths About The Right-To-Work Laws

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5 replies »

  1. You can guess my opinion. The boss handled it poorly, but he had the right to fire her. I’m not at all unsympathetic to the woman’s position (I was fired in a right-to-work state myself), but she was an employee. That’s a privilege, not a right. Besides, why would you want to keep working at a place where you weren’t wanted?

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