A woman fired for being too attractive will get another shot at her sexual discrimination lawsuit after the Iowa Supreme Court decided to reconsider the case.
Melissa Nelson says she spent 10 happy years working as a dental hygienist for Dr. James Knight until he fired her, claiming she was a threat to his marriage.
The all-male Iowa State Supreme Court ruled in 2012 that Knight was within his legal rights when he fired Nelson, as the termination was not based on gender.
Knight’s attorney says the decision to fire Nelson was legal, telling ABC News he believes the court will reaffirm its decision, as “the law has not changed.”
Meanwhile, Melissa Nelson, who successfully appealed to the court to re-hear the case, hopes that even if the law hasn’t changed, the interpretation might.
“I can tell you she was surprised and delighted by the news that the Iowa Supreme Court has withdrawn its earlier ruling,” Nelson’s attorney, Paige Fiedler, said.
“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.”
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.
The justices will not hear new evidence, but may issue 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 Nelson, 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. He 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 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 texted about work and personal matters, such as updates about each of their children’s activities.
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 but let it go 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.