You Tempt Me – You Are Fired! Not Unlawful Employment Discrimination

January 4, 2013

Recently, the Iowa Supreme Court handed down a decision in response to the question, “can a male employer terminate a female employee because the employer’s wife, due to no fault of the employee, is concerned about the nature of the relationship between the employer and the employee?” In Nelson v. James H. Knight DDS, P.C., 2012 WL 6652747, the defendant terminated the services of the plaintiff because his wife insisted that the plaintiff be terminated as she perceived her to be a big threat to their marriage. In analyzing the issue, the Court narrowed the question further to, “whether an employee who has not engaged in flirtatious conduct may be lawfully terminated simply because the boss views the employee as an irresistible attraction.”

The Iowa Supreme Court held, “that employer did not engage in sex discrimination when he fired female employee at the request of his wife due to her concerns with the nature of employer’s relationship with employee.” In its analysis, the Court stated that, “[t]he civil rights laws seek to insure that employees are treated the same regardless of their sex or other protected status.”  However, the Court in this case did not find that the employee’s termination was unlawful, although the Court did acknowledge that there was a legitimate concern about a slippery slope.

Where we are on that slope can be gleaned from other jurisdictions that have addressed a defense to claims of sex-based discrimination due to the jealousy of spouses.  To learn more I ran the following search on WestlawNext:

discrim! (title /2 vii) /p fire! firing terminat! discharg! /p sex! gender female male woman man /p roman! attract! jealous! tempt! /s wife spous! husband marriage relationship

What I found were a number of cases where similar arguments were raised.  Delaware courts found similar arguments raised in Holland v Zarif 794 A.2d. 1254 where “In its briefs, the Department argues that Mrs. Holland was not fired because she was a woman, but because she was a particular woman who inspired jealousy in the spouse of her employer. The Department contends that a jealousy-based firing of this nature does not involve sex discrimination.”  The 6th Circuit in Lococo v Barger 234 F.3d. 1268 reversed summary judgment when it found “a reasonable jury could conclude that Barger’s proffered explanation for firing Lococo was not his wife’s jealousy, but rather his wife’s concern over the effect Lococo’s public image might have on the reputation of the county attorney’s office-a concern that could have extended to a similarly situated male employee….there remains a genuine issue of material fact as to whether Lococo was terminated because of her sex.”

Research References:

Nelson v. James H. Knight DDS, P.C., 2012 WL 6652747

Here’s a search for related content on this issue:

discrim! (title /2 vii) /p fire! firing terminat! discharg! /p sex! gender female male woman man /p roman! attract! jealous! tempt! /p wife spous! husband

Here is a broader search on the same issue:

discrim! (title /2 vii) /p fire! firing terminat! discharg! /p sex! gender female male woman man /p roman! attract! jealous! tempt!

This search in all state and federal jurisdiction yields some very relevant cases, as noted above. In WestlawNext, sorting by relevance, the Nelson case is the first one that comes up followed by the Eighth Circuit case cited by the Iowa Supreme Court. This search also brings up some nice articles in the secondary sources content category.