Kokomo Tribune; Kokomo, Indiana

January 9, 2013

House of Burgess – Too sexy for your job, by law

American women everywhere are under attack

By Rob Burgess
Tribune columnist

— Effective Dec. 21, 2012, workers in the state of Iowa can be legally fired by their employer for being too attractive.

In the case of Melissa Nelson v. James H. Knight DDS, PC and James Knight, the seven male justices of the Hawkeye State’s highest court unanimously maintained it perfectly acceptable for personnel to be terminated simply because, in their words, “the boss views the employee as an irresistible attraction.”

The case came about after dental assistant Melissa Nelson was fired in early 2010. Her male boss claimed his wife thought she represented “a threat to their marriage.”

“Nelson, who worked for dentist James Knight for more than 10 years and had never flirted with him, according to the testimony of both parties, sued, saying she would not have been fired if she were a man,” reported Reuters. “Nelson [said] that she had done nothing wrong, that she considered Knight a friend and father figure, and that she would not have been terminated but for her gender.”

While this decision could impact good-looking employees of all genders, I see it as especially dangerous to women. It seems part of a disturbing trend of male push-back against gender equality in the workplace. Even our women in uniform aren’t safe from this ridiculous form of Neanderthal-like discrimination. Before you read the next paragraph, keep in mind about 1 in 5 women seen by the Veterans Health Administration respond “yes” when screened for “military sexual trauma,” according to the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs.

On Dec. 9, 2011, Justice Liam O’Grady of the United States District Court for the Eastern District of Virginia threw out the case of Cioca v. Rumsfeld. The lawsuit was filed by 28 military members and veterans who said they were victims of sexual assault.

“Judge O’Grady dismissed the lawsuit saying that rape and sexual assault in the military are simply ‘incident to service,’” reported Motley News. “According to the military’s argument, which Judge O’Grady accepted, rape and sexual assault [are] just an occupational hazard for service members.”

Just days ago, the Republican-led House of Representatives failed to renew the Violence Against Women Act, even after it passed the Senate with 68 votes.

“For the first time since it was passed 18 years ago, VAWA expired at the end of the 112th congressional session,” reported the International Business Times. “The expiration was the result of Republicans in the U.S. House of Representatives, who let the clock run out on the law without ever letting it come to a vote. Drafted in 1994 by then-Sen. Joe Biden, VAWA provides federal resources for the investigation and prosecution of violent crimes against women.”

Even if you don’t consider yourself a feminist, these facts should shock you as a person. What we’re seeing is the last gasp of a patriarchal society which should have died long ago. Given these developments, I feel like I should be writing this column by torchlight on the wall of a cave, not typing it on a computer in 2013. I could almost understand this madness if women had just entered the work force and all us menfolk still were wrapping our minds around the idea of integration, but as you’re reading this, the fourth highest position in the entire country, secretary of state, is held by Hillary Clinton. And she’s not even the first woman to hold the position; she’s the third. Still, women also earn around 80 cents for every dollar a man earns in the workplace, according to the latest figures from the Department of Labor’s Bureau of Labor Statistics. The same agency reported women earned less than their male counterparts in all but 1 percent of jobs.

Men, we had better start treating the fairer sex like human beings or there is no hope for any of us.

Rob Burgess, Tribune night editor, may be reached by calling 765-454-8577, via email at rob.burgess@kokomotribune.com or on Twitter at www.twitter.com/robaburg.