Iowa Supreme Court to Reconsider Case of Woman Fired for Being 'Irresistible'

Court had ruled in favor of dentist who fired woman as threat to his marriage.

ByABC News
June 28, 2013, 2:03 AM

June 28, 2013— -- A woman fired from her job for being too "irresistible" will get another chance at her sex-discrimination lawsuit after the Iowa Supreme Court ruled this week to reconsider the case.

Melissa Nelson says she spent 10 happy years working as a dental hygienist for Dr. James Knight until he blindsided her with a pink slip, claiming Nelson was a threat to his marriage.

The all-male Iowa State Supreme Court ruled in December that Knight was within his legal rights when he fired Nelson because the termination was not based on gender.

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Knight's attorney says the decision to terminate Nelson was legal, telling ABC News he believes the court will reaffirm its decision because "the law has not changed."

"Dr. Knight's dismissal of Mrs. Nelson was perfectly legal according to all of the well-established case law not only in Iowa but in every other jurisdiction that has considered similar claims," attorney Stu Cochrane said in a statement.

Meanwhile, Nelson hopes that even if the law hasn't changed, how the judges interpret it will.

"I can tell you she was surprised and delighted by the news that the Iowa Supreme Court has withdrawn its earlier ruling," Nelson's attorney, Paige Fiedler, told ABC News in a statement. "Not only does this breathe new life into her court case, it eliminates what many of us believed was a harmful legal and misguided precedent."

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The decision drew national attention and sparked much controversy.

"The only thing that's changed here is the public's reaction to the decision, which was mostly negative," said Ryan Koopmans, a Des Moines attorney who is not affiliated with the case.

Koopmans says the justices will not hear new evidence in the case but will likely be issuing a new opinion.

"There really is no reason to grant rehearing six months after the decision was made unless someone is seriously considering changing their mind," he said. "I think we'll definitely see at least one opinion in favor of Melissa, the question is whether it is the majority opinion or dissenting opinion."

Nelson, a married mother of two, was summoned to a meeting with Knight in 2010 while a pastor was present. Knight then read from a prepared statement telling Nelson she was fired.

Nelson sued, claiming her firing was a form of gender discrimination.

According to court documents, Knight made reference to what he believed was Nelson's infrequent sex life, saying, "That's like having a Lamborghini in the garage and never driving it."

Six months before Nelson was fired, she and her boss began exchanging text messages about work and personal matters, such as updates about each of their children's activities, the justices wrote.

The messages were mostly mundane, but Nelson said she recalled one text she received from her boss asking "how often she experienced an orgasm."

Nelson did not respond to the text and never indicated that she was uncomfortable with Knight's question, according to court documents.

Soon after, Knight's wife, Jeanne, who also works at the practice, found out about the text messaging and ordered her husband to fire Nelson.

The couple then consulted with a senior pastor at their church and he agreed that Nelson should be terminated in order to protect their marriage, according to Cochrane, Knight's attorney.

ABC News' Alyssa Newcomb and Tanya Rivero contributed to this report.