January 2nd, 2013

Iowa dentist lusted for assistant, fired her, state appeals court backs him

Don’t ever lose your ability to be shocked by injustice. That’s what employers want us to do. Here’s a shocking tale.

Melissa Nelson, a 32-year old mother and happily married wife, was a dental assistant for 10 years for a Fort Dodge, Iowa dentist named James Knight. Knight had been her family dentist. A Nelson acquaintance worked in his office. She felt close to his wife and family, too. Knight is older than Nelson. It was an amicable midwest workplace for years.

Nelson said that Knight became lewd when he turned 50. He found her “irresistibly attractive.” He sleazily commented that if she (Nelson) saw his pants “bulging,” she would know her clothing was too revealing and he objected that he was able to tell during work hours that she had breasts. Remember, this was an educated health professional! Knight learned cell phone texting and began sexting to Nelson, asking how often she had orgasms. Nelson never encouraged or invited Knight’s advances. Knight told his pastor and wife that he had “feelings and emotions” for Nelson. Both told him to fire Nelson, the woman Knight considered his best-ever assistant. The wobbly Knight made termination a religious affair. He invited another pastor from his church to attend the Jan. 4, 2010 meeting with Nelson where they ambushed and fired her.

Nelson subsequently made the difficult decision to sue, not for sexual harassment, but for gender discrimination. Her case, handled by Des Moines attorney, Paige Fielder (515-294-1999), was rejected by the trial court, ending in summary judgment. However, Fielder appealed to the Iowa Supreme Court.

On Dec. 21, 2012 the Supreme Court opinion was filed (download and read it here). They sided with Knight. The all male Court (3 justices who had previously supported same-sex marriage were replaced in the recent election) sided with Knight. Remarkably, a man in an uncertain marriage eager to have an affair and who immaturely lacks self-control can jeopardize his female employees’ job security and psychological safety without risk. The Court said so.

Because of Knight’s personal problems, Melissa Nelson lost the job she loved. She was objectively the best worker. Performance was not her problem. It was her out-of-control boss. She and her husband raise two children and both now work night shifts in lower-paying jobs to make ends meet. Her fate was similar to most others who are bullied at work, 77% lose their jobs, according to one WBI 2012 study.

Iowa is a “right-to-work” state; terminations don’t have to have a cause. But employers are not free to discriminate. Now the state appeals court has raised the threshold for what constitutes discrimination of women in the workplace. Guess you can be fired when the wife and pastor say so.

Watch the CNN interview about the Nelson case. Note how the host asks her if she dressed provocatively or had an actual affair that could explain the stupid Knight lewdness.

A dentist to avoid:
James Knight, DDS
1800 Floral Ave
Fort Dodge, IA 50501


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This entry was posted on Wednesday, January 2nd, 2013 at 12:50 pm and is filed under Employers Gone Wild: Doing Bad Things, Rulings by Courts, Workplace Bullying Laws. You can follow any responses to this entry through the RSS 2.0 feed. You can leave a response, or trackback from your own site.

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