Too Hot for the Job?

Posted on January 4, 2013 03:44 by Mark A. Fahleson

Last week, the Iowa Supreme Court answered the following question:

"Can a male employer terminate a female employee because the employer's wife, due to no fault of the employee, is concerned about the nature of the relationship between the employer and employee?

According to the opinion, the plaintiff was employed as a dental assistant in the defendant's dental practice.  The employer dentist complained to the dental assistant that her clothing was too tight and distracting, yet acknowledged discussing plaintiff's sex life with her on occasions.   In late 2009 the employer dentist took his children to Colorado skiing while his wife, who was also an employee of the dental practice, remained home.  After the dentists wife discovered that her husband had been texting the dental assistant while on vacation, she confronted her husband and as a couple then met with the senior pastor at their church.  Collectively, they decided that it was necessary for the dental assistant's employment to be terminated because their relationship had become a detriment to all involved.  The dental assistant subsequently brought suit, not alleging sexual harassment, but that she was terminated because of her gender and would not have been fired had she was male.

On appeal, the Iowa Supreme Court, citing federal court precedent, affirmed summary judgment in favor of the employer dentist.  

Is it relevant that the employer dentist only employed female dental assistants?

If the dentist would have been liable if he had sexual harassed her, can he avoid liability for firing her out of feat that he was going to harass her?

Is the plaintiff's physical appearance relevant, i.e., what if she wasn't objectively attractive, does that give rise to a genuine issue of material fact regarding the employer dentist's motivation for firing the dental assistant? Read more about the case here

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Categories: Law Suit | State Supreme Court

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