(CNN) -- It may not be fair, but it's not illegal -- not in Iowa.
Melissa Nelson, a worker
fired for being "irresistible" to her boss, spoke out Saturday about a
high court decision that said her termination broke no discrimination
"The last couple of days
have just been an emotional roller coaster. I'm trying to stay strong.
It's tough," she told CNN's Don Lemon. "I don't think it's fair. I don't
think it's right."
Nelson spoke one day
after the all-male Iowa Supreme Court ruled on her case. The high court
sided with a lower court, ruling that Nelson's termination did not
constitute sex discrimination under the Iowa Civil Rights Act.
She was not fired because
of her gender, the court decided, but because her boss and his wife
felt Nelson was a threat to their marriage.
Nelson was hired in 1999
as a dental assistant for James Knight. She stayed on at the Fort Dodge
business for more than 10 years.
"The court got it
absolutely right," said Stuart Cochrane, Knight's attorney. He said that
for the Iowa Supreme Court to have acted otherwise, it would have had
to "ignore every other case we could find" with similar facts.
At first blush, he said,
the result might sound bizarre. But Cochrane stressed that if all the
facts of the case were known, the court's decision would seem more fair.
"He and his wife really agonized about it," Cochrane said about Knight. "He didn't want to terminate her."
According to the high
court's decision, Knight complained to Nelson toward the end of her
employment that her clothes were tight and "distracting." Cochrane said
Knight asked her repeatedly to dress differently.
Nelson denied that what
she wore was out of place, and when asked by CNN's Lemon whether she
dressed appropriately at work, she said she wore scrubs.
At one point, Knight
told Nelson that "if she saw his pants bulging, she would know her
clothing was too revealing," the decision read.
Read the court's decision (PDF)
At another point, in
response to an alleged comment Nelson made about the infrequency of her
sex life, Knight responded: [T]hat's like having a Lamborghini in the
garage and never driving it."
Nelson and Knight, both
married with children, also exchanged text messages to each other
outside of work. Neither objected to the texting.
But Knight's wife, who
was employed at the same dental office, found out about those messages
in late 2009 and demanded he fire Nelson.
In early 2010, he did just that.
In the presence of a
pastor, Knight told Nelson that she had become a "detriment" to his
family and for the sakes of both their families, they should no longer
work together. Knight gave Nelson one month's severance.
In a subsequent
conversation between Knight and Nelson's husband, Knight said Nelson had
done nothing wrong and that "she was the best dental assistant he ever
had," the decision read.
Nelson filed a lawsuit,
arguing that Knight fired her because of her gender. She did not contend
that he committed sexual harassment.
In response, Knight
argued that Nelson was fired because of the "nature of their
relationship and the perceived threat" to his marriage, not because of
her gender. In fact, he said, Knight only employs women and replaced
Nelson with another female worker.
A district court sided with Knight; Nelson appealed.
Framing the issue for
the Iowa Supreme Court, Justice Edward M. Mansfield wrote: "The question
we must answer is ... whether an employee who has not engaged in
flirtatious conduct may be lawfully terminated simply because the boss
views the employee as an irresistible attraction."
Answering the question,
he continued: "The issue before us is not whether a jury could find that
Dr. Knight treated Nelson badly. We are asked to decide only if a
genuine fact issue exists as to whether Dr. Knight engaged in unlawful
gender discrimination when he fired Nelson at the request of his wife.
For the reasons previously discussed, we believe this conduct did not
amount to unlawful discrimination, and therefore we affirm the judgment
of the district court."