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Iowa Supreme Court upholds 'irresistible employee' verdict

Court had agreed to reconsider case; woman had claimed discrimination

The Iowa Supreme Court upheld its unanimous decision in the so-called “irresistible employee” case in a 32-page ruling issued Friday.

But the justices took care to further explain their decision and three — Chief Justice Mark Cady, David Wiggins and Daryl Hecht — issued a special concurrence in agreement.

The court’s initial December decision in the case brought it national attention because the all-male court sided with dentist James Knight, who fired his longtime assistant, Melissa Nelson, at the urging of his wife because he apparently found her irresistible and worried that her presence in the office could affect his marriage.

Nelson sued, claiming discrimination.

In a rare move, the court announced last month it would reconsider the case. But Friday’s result didn’t change the outcome.

“The issue before us is not whether a jury could find that Dr. Knight treated Nelson badly. We are asked to decide only if a genuine fact issue exists as to whether Dr. Knight engaged in unlawful gender discrimination when he fired Nelson at the request of his wife,” Judge Edward Mansfield wrote in the majority opinion. “We believe this conduct did not amount to unlawful discrimination.”

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