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Back in mid-1970s, Morris Albert scored on the pop record charts with a Loulou Gasté song called “Feelings,” which recounted his inability to forget his feelings of love.
We can’t help but wish the Iowa Supreme Court had played that ditty as a soundtrack to the re-announcement of its wacky decision last week. The court had ruled — we’ll rephrase — that it’s OK to wreck an innocent person’s career if the person in power feels he can’t act honorably and the underling in question is a good-looking woman.
The dentist in the case wasn’t acting honorably in the first place: He had been texting with his married, 20-years-younger dental assistant, and the dentist's wife learned of the e-romancing. According to The Associated Press report and the assistant's attorney, the employee did not respond in kind. Nevertheless, the assistant, who had worked for him for 10 years, and who AP reported was his best assistant, got fired because he was worried he’d start an affair with her.
We understand that, just as employees without contracts are free to leave at whim, private employers can hire and fire at will. Non-unionized, non-public employees understand that they work at their employer’s discretion. The dentist could have said he was firing the woman just because he wanted to, and left it at that. He should have; he didn’t.
Likewise, the court could have ruled that employers can fire at will, and left it at that. It should have; it didn’t.
Instead, the court went through all manner of gyrations to explain on a second go-round with the case — which it reconsidered after criticism when first announcing the ruling in December — that the whole thing was OK under the law because the firing was motivated by feelings, and not sex discrimination. In its verbal fact wrangling, the court could not wriggle around the fact that it was the very attractiveness of the woman at the center of the dentist’s lack of intestinal fortitude.
There’s a not very subtle difference between being fired without cause, and being fired because the male employer can’t control himself in the presence of an irresistibly attractive female. The latter seems textbook sex discrimination.
The court says it was legal —because of “feelings.” Maybe. That doesn’t make it right. Carried out to logical extremes, what could not be justified, as long as someone "feels" a certain way?