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Gender Bias and Employee Termination Case in Iowa Essay


This case analysis deals with the actions of Mr. Knight when he terminated Ms. Nelson for being “too attractive”. Ms. Nelson has worked as a dental assistant for Mr. Knight for the past ten years. She has enjoyed her job immensely, and there have been no issues at work thus far. However, within the past year, Mr. Knight’s attitude has subtly shifted resulting in him becoming more physically active and more confident in his actions.

He started engaging Ms. Nelson in increasingly personal conversations, some of which were sexual. Ms. Nelson believed that these actions were simply Mr. Knight going through a mid-life crisis. Unfortunately, her reciprocation of these actions in the form of friendly banter, which were completely innocent in her opinion since she was married, was viewed negatively by his wife resulting in her termination for being “too attractive” since Mr. Knight would be tempted to sleep with her. Ms. Nelson believed such a situation to be a form of wrongful termination and thus took action via the local court system.

Strategic Issues

On the surface, the case seems to imply some form of discrimination taking place since Melissa Nelson was fired for being “too attractive”. However, several factors need to be taken into consideration. The first matter that should be considered is that Ms. Nelson has worked for Dr. Knight for the past ten years. She stated that the work environment was great and that she enjoyed her job (Johnson & Jolly, 2014).

This shows that from the onset of her experience at the dental practice, she was not discriminated against. Gender discrimination lawsuits are not based on differences in gender alone; rather, they are based on the working conditions and opportunities that are afforded to different sexes within a workplace. A successful gender discrimination lawsuit should show that there is a significant difference in work conditions and opportunities for men and women. Without showing this level of preference, a discrimination case cannot be successful. In the case study presented, the employees in Mr. Knight’s dental practice are mostly women. This limits the ability of any case filed against Mr. Knight that he is intentionally discriminating against women since it is clear that work conditions and opportunities are all equal for them.

The second issue to consider is that Iowa is an employment-at-will state which means that a person can be fired for a wide variety of reasons so long as it is not due to a person’s gender, race, nationality, race, age, religion, age or because they got pregnant. Based on information from Iowa’s Civil Rights Commission, employers can terminate an employee at their discretion so long as it does not touch on the “protected classes” mentioned above. This means that an employer can terminate someone for either being too short, too tall, not showing enthusiasm for work, not smiling, not supporting a particular sports team and a wide variety of other potential reasons. Taking the broad applicability of this law into consideration, being fired for being “too attractive” is well within its parameters.

Taking all these factors into consideration, it is unlikely that Ms. Nelson’s case would be successful since, from a discrimination standpoint and employee rights perspective, Mr. Knight was within his legal rights to terminate her.

Resolving the Problem

Before proceeding, it is important to take into account the potential ramifications of Mr. Knight’s actions in his practice. Businesses do not operate in a vacuum and actions taken that impact its operations can have either positive or negative repercussions. One of the potential repercussions of Mr. Knight’s actions is a loss of client patronage. The reason Ms. Nelson was fired is not her fault, and it is unlikely to be well received by members of the community that Mr. Knight operates in. It is likely that his clients, upon learning of this, are likely to take their business elsewhere.

Another repercussion of Mr. Knight’s actions is how other employees in this practice would perceive their job security. As stated in the case study, Ms. Nelson was the dental assistant of Mr. Knight for ten years. Her sudden termination due to being “too attractive” could be perceived negatively by other female employees within the company. They may start to think that they may also be fired for being too attractive resulting in the loss of talented personnel in Mr. Knight’s practice as they pursue jobs with other companies that operate under a different internal business culture. This “brain drain” can hurt the performance of Mr. Knight’s practice which could take years to resolve.

Mr. Knight should have pursued alternatives when it came to how he approached the issue of Ms. Nelson’s attractiveness. Yes, it is true that from a legal standpoint he is unlikely to successfully sued in a court of law, but the impact of his actions can still negatively affect him. It is based on this that the next section will detail various recommendations that Mr. Knight could have pursued.


The problem with Mr. Knight’s actions is the possible negative ramifications it could have on his business; it is based on this that the following recommendations have been developed to help address the issue:

Use an Arm’s Length Policy When it Comes to Employee-Employer Interaction

One of the problems that were evident in the case was that Mr. Knight failed to implement an arm’s length policy when it comes to interacting with Ms. Nelson. An arm’s length policy entails implementing a certain “distance” when it comes to interactions wherein a cordial and friendly relationship is established but aspects related to personal information are kept out of all interactions. The texts and conversations that Mr. Knight engaged in with Ms. Nelson clearly showed several violations of this tenet since they involved topics of a sexual and overly personal nature. Mr. Knight should have been friendly yet professional in all his interactions. If he had done so, it is unlikely that the problem would have escalated to such an extent.

Strengths of the Strategy

The strength of this strategy is that it creates an acknowledged boundary that Mr. Knight should knowingly not cross when it comes to all interactions with his employees. This enables Mr. Knight to discern what particular actions could be potentially construed as being overly friendly or, in a worst-case scenario, be perceived as a form of sexual harassment. It should also be noted that by putting this policy in place, Mr. Knight helps to prevent any future instances of being sued for sexual harassment or discrimination.

Weaknesses of the Strategy

The weakness of this strategy is that it entirely depends on Mr. Knight’s willingness to abide by it. As noted by Ms. Nelson, Mr. Knight changed recently, and he seemed to become more confident and more willing to interact. His texts and conversations with her indicated that he was starting to become sexually attracted to Ms. Nelson and was not taking the appropriate steps to prevent his actions from escalating via an arm’s length employee-employer relationship. Thus, if a manager or owner is unwilling to abide by the rules of this policy, it will not be effective at all.

Distance Personal Life from Work

Another of the notable problems that were evident in the case was that Mr. Knight failed to distance his personal life from his work life. The issue with Ms. Nelson can be traced to his wife clearly stating that she did not want Ms. Nelson around anymore and, as a result, Mr. Knight complied with her wishes. Think of the following scenario, if the wife of the CEO of a major corporation told him to fire one of the managers that he was friendly with, would he comply?

It is highly unlikely since the most important aspect of all corporate operations is the effectiveness and efficiency of an employee. In Mr. Knight’s case, he let go of a person that has ten years’ worth of experience working for him. This means that he lost an employee that has substantial amounts of professional experience that he would have great difficulty replacing. There is the potential that another dentist would benefit from Ms. Nelson’s expertise and would hire her. Taking this scenario into consideration, it can be seen that managers or business owners should always distance aspects of their personal life from their business. Failure to do so can impede workplace efficiency which could result in its closure.

Strengths of the Strategy

The advantage of this strategy is that this prevents personal problems at home from interfering with what is going on at the company. A company’s or firm’s performance strategies should always focus on implementing methods that either enhance workplace effectiveness or increase employee productivity. Just because your significant other is uncomfortable with the presence of a particular employee does not mean that this should result in their termination. A manager or company owner should always pursue actions that make the company better, not worse.

Weaknesses of the Strategy

The weakness of this strategy is the fact that some people simply cannot disassociate their personal lives from their professional lives. Sometimes a significant level of overlap occurs which can cause result in a relatively large amount of chaos in the life of a business owner or manager.

Recommended Course of Action

After going over both strategies, it is recommended that Mr. Knight implement an arm’s length strategy from now on when it comes to all employee interactions. There is nothing wrong with being friendly with the people that work for you, but there should be limits on what topics can be broached and what should be shared. Mr. Knight went beyond several personal boundaries and he is very lucky that the law supports his actions even though they are morally objectionable.

Overall, what this case has shown is that just because a particular action is morally objectionable does not mean that it is illegal. However, just because these loopholes exist, does not mean that managers and business owners should take advantage of them. Self-imposed limits should be implemented since the success of your company or firm will depend on how your business is perceived by the general public and how well you keep your current pool of talented employees.

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"Gender Bias and Employee Termination Case in Iowa." IvyPanda, 16 July 2020, ivypanda.com/essays/gender-bias-and-employee-termination-case-in-iowa/.

1. IvyPanda. "Gender Bias and Employee Termination Case in Iowa." July 16, 2020. https://ivypanda.com/essays/gender-bias-and-employee-termination-case-in-iowa/.


IvyPanda. "Gender Bias and Employee Termination Case in Iowa." July 16, 2020. https://ivypanda.com/essays/gender-bias-and-employee-termination-case-in-iowa/.


IvyPanda. 2020. "Gender Bias and Employee Termination Case in Iowa." July 16, 2020. https://ivypanda.com/essays/gender-bias-and-employee-termination-case-in-iowa/.


IvyPanda. (2020) 'Gender Bias and Employee Termination Case in Iowa'. 16 July.

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