Melissa Nelson was fired from her position as a dental assistant because her boss, James Knight, found her attractive and his wife concerned their marriage was threatened by her presence. Nelson took her case to the Supreme Court of South Dakota where an all-male court unanimously agreed that no civil rights were violated.
The South Dakota Court handed down an unequivocal and unanimous ruling in the favor of the employer who terminated a female dental assistance at his practice under the behest of his wife.
The dentist, Dr. James Knight, was given an ultimatum after his wife discovered quasi-intimate text messages between him and his dental assistant. The dentist explained to his wife that he found the woman irresistible.
His wife told him that either he fire the woman or face a break up of their marriage. He relented and terminated the woman who had worked for him over the course of several years.
The woman, Melissa Nelson, sued arguing that she was sexually harassed because of her good looks.
Initially, the court sided with the defendant, but agreed to rehear the case. However, the court merely concurred with their prior ruling.
The decision might seem sexist at face value, but in reality was the most sensible decision. Had the court sided with the plaintiff Ms. Nelson, they would have set a precedent that a person’s thoughts are in violation of work place laws covering sexual harassment even before any acts of sexual harassment occur.
It would in effect create a “Minority Report” of sexual harassment. The circumstances of this particular case may be awkward but a business owner still has the right to hire & fire employees as long as labor laws are respected.
Brett Delray was born and raised in London. As a journalist, Brett has contributed to many online publications including BBC, The Daily Mail and NPR. In regards to academics, Bill earned a degree in business from The London School of Journalism. Brett covers economy stories here Kev’s Best.