Iowa Woman Fired for Being Attractive Looks Back and Moves On

PHOTO: Melissa Nelson is interviewed on "20/20." In 2010 Nelson, a dental assistant, was fired by her boss because he was attracted to her, which he felt threatened his marriage.
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Ever thought you could be too good-looking for your own good?

Melissa Nelson, 33, didn't either. Then she was fired from her job in Fort Dodge, Iowa, as a dental assistant, after 10 years, simply because her boss found her irresistibly attractive – and a threat to his marriage.

"All she ever wanted to do was be a dental assistant," said Nelson's husband, Steve Nelson, in an interview with "20/20" correspondent Paula Faris. The former high school sweethearts have two young children.

"She wanted to work for Dr. Knight's office, so she job shadowed there, she got a job there and just everything fell into place," Steve Nelson continued. "She loved her job."

Melissa Nelson worked side by side for Dr. James Knight eight hours a day for a decade.

"It was a fun working environment," she said. She viewed Knight as a father figure and mentor, and when Nelson had both of her children, Knight visited with his family.

Around when Knight turned 50, Nelson said, he changed. He began to work out.

"He became more confident and more outgoing," Nelson said.

Midlife crisis?

"That's the only thing I could come up with," Nelson said.

Their friendship -- they would exchange text messages during off hours -- went from cordial to creepy, she said.

"He would ask me about my personal life. He would ask me how often I would have sex."

Nelson said she once answered in a way implying "not much," and Knight responded, "that's like having a Lamborghini in the garage and never driving it."

He warned her, "if you see my pants bulging, you'll know your clothes are too revealing."

Nelson's attire consisted of a standard scrub suit. On humid days she removed her lab coat, under which she wore a simple crew neck t-shirt.

Nelson said she did not flirt with Knight and was "absolutely not" attracted to him. She never led him on, she insisted.

Nelson brushed off her boss' comments for six months, hoping they would stop.

They did, but not in a way she would have expected or wanted.

Knight's wife discovered her husband was texting with Nelson while the Knights were on vacation – and made sure it would end.

"His wife came in [the office] with a purple folder, and just sat it on his desk, and walked out without saying anything," Nelson recalled.

Knight called a meeting with Nelson, then brought in a man.

"I found later that it was his minister from church," Nelson said.

The three-person meeting began, and the purple folder was opened. The dentist read a statement and told Melissa she was fired.

"Dr. Knight said I couldn't work in the office, because he was becoming attracted to me, and not able to focus on his family, and his family life. ... I instantly broke down in tears. All I remember is just sitting there, and not able to get up, telling him that I love my job."

Steve Nelson rushed to the dentist's office.

"I said, 'What's going on? Is there a mistake?!'" Steve Nelson said. "He said, 'I got feelings for your wife, and it's affecting my family.' ... I want you to know, Steve, that your wife has done nothing wrong."

"I got really angry," Steve Nelson went on. "Why would those thoughts even cross his mind? This is my wife. Why is he thinking of her as an object?"

The news also infuriated some in the tight-knit, reserved town of 25,000 people.

Ruth and Jerry Hancock were patients of Knight.

"I always enjoyed seeing her," Jerry Hancock said. "She was very professional, friendly. I have just never, ever seen her do anything inappropriate."

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