Fired for being too hot? In Iowa that’s apparently okay, ruled the state supreme court. According to CNN, justices in Iowa agreed that a Fort Dodge dentist was within his rights to fire a longtime dental assistant because he and his wife deemed the woman to be a threat to the dentist’s marriage. Obviously, many people are outraged. The idea that an employer can fire a worker for being too attractive is odious and reeks of blatant discrimination.
But is it reasonable to expect an employer to be forced to retain an employee who is deemed a threat to the health of the employer’s marriage? The dentist’s wife demanded that he remove the attractive dental assistant from his employ, and he complied. Should an employer have to risk the dissolution of his or her marriage by keeping a hottie on the payroll? While critics of the ruling are accusing the Iowa Supreme Court of sexism, especially since all current justices are male, I can easily see a female employer being forced to fire an attractive male employee due to the objections of a jealous husband.
Nobody is arguing that the plaintiff, Melissa Nelson, received a fair deal in being fired. Her termination was undoubtedly unfair. Her job performance was allegedly never questioned or considered sub-par. The controversial firing, though wrong on many levels, is still legal because it was not based on gender, race, ethnicity, or religious orientation. Nelson was not fired due to an -ism, but due to individual factors. It passes a legal test.
And arguing that new protections be created for employees like Melissa Nelson is going a step too far. First of all, how to define and protect “attractive” employees? The complexity of interpersonal attraction is far too great to be incorporated into legal code. Even if the law did try to say that employers could not fire employees over perceived threats to one’s professionalism or the sanctity of one’s marriage, employers could simply take the common route of arguing poor job performance or outright sabotaging an employee’s work. The dentist was wrong to fire his attractive dental assistant, but at least he was honest about the reason…he could have simply lied.
Finally, what of the damage done to families by forcing employers to retain irresistible employees? Jealous spouses are not just the domain of sitcoms. Would justices like to explain to children that their parents eventually divorced because one parent could not legally fire an employee that made the other parent feel insecure? Nobody walks away from this judicial ruling happy, but I think that more harm is caused by forcing an employer’s hand and making it a requirement to retain an employee who is causing stress and strain.