From the Archive: Can You Fire the “Temptress”?

by Michael Haberman on June 7, 2017 · 0 comments


My post yesterday about discrimination and stupid HR reminded me of this case also involving potential discrimination and stupid HR, however, with a different outcome. 

Can you legally fire the “temptress” in you workplace?

What happens when a husband and wife work at the same place and the husband (the boss) starts being tempted by another female worker? Well when the wife finds out she demands the temptress be fired. The question then becomes can you fire the temptress?

Not really about “too good looking”

This story of Melissa Nelson has been making the rounds in the media and was presented with headlines of the type “Woman fired for being too attractive.” As it turns out her good looks only played a minor part in the situation. It was not that she was too good looking it was that her boss was attracted to her. As a result they started flirting. When the wife, who was also an employee, found out about the flirtatious text messaging the other two were doing she demanded Nelson be fired. Again that had nothing to do her attractiveness in general, it had to do with how attracted the boss was to her. We all know that people can be attracted to each other and be flirtatious regardless of whether they are deemed “attractive” by the rest of us. An ugly man flirting with an ugly woman will still incur the wrath of the wife when she finds out.

Good looking is not a protected category

Bowing to his wife’s demands James Knight fired Melissa Nelson. She thought that was not right and sued him on the basis of unlawful discrimination. The problem is that “good looking is not a protected category under Title VII. Being too tempting to the boss is not a protected category under Title VII. So the Iowa Supreme Court decided that Knight had the legal right to terminate Nelson who did not engage in any unlawful discrimination based on gender. In fact Nelson was replaced by another woman.

Basically Knight was exercising his rights as an employer under the concept of “at-will”  which basically says that you can fire anyone for any reason as long as you are not violating a federal or state statute in the process.

Stupid HR

Exercising “at-will” rights does not mean the decisions made are always good ones. There have been many things done legally that can be classified as stupid HR. (See the links below for more stupid HR examples.) The stupid HR in this case was the boss flirting with an employee where his wife could catch him. In fact that is an example of STUPID. He will not be doing that again as I am sure his wife now has him on a very short leash.

More Stupid HR:

Stupid HR: “Sorry It’s Not In the Policy Manual”

Where Was HR When They Made Her Take Her Bra Off?

Drowning Employee Engagement: Lifeguards Get the Ax


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