Supreme Court affirms decision in Nelson v. Knight case

The Iowa Supreme Court today has ruled that a Fort Dodge dentist did not discriminate against a fired employee because of her status as a woman.

In today’s decision, the court said there was “insufficient evidence offered … in light of the undisputed evidence of a consensual personal relationship” to conclude that Dr. James Knight fired Melissa Nelson, based on her status as a woman.

In its analysis, the court said “the case simply lacked the facts to establish discrimination.”

“It was a great decision,” said Knight’s attorney, Stu Cochrane. “I don’t see this as necessarily different from their first decision, but I’m impressed with the court’s effort to clearly communicate the rationale for the decision.

“They went to great lengths to evaluate the legal and factual issues that were presented. I think the court wanted to make very clear what this decision was and what it wasn’t,” Cochrane said.

He also said Chief Justice Mark Cady, in particular, “really wanted to provide as much detail” as possible to explain the court’s rationale and to make clear that the decision was in line with existing law.

The court, which has has only granted reconsiderations five times in the last decade, had ruled in December 2012 that Knight acted legally when he fired Nelson in January 2010.

Nelson filed a lawsuit against Knight in August 2010, alleging the dentist fired her because of her gender and would not have terminated her if she was a male. She did not allege sexual harassment.

In its initial ruling, the Supreme Court said Nelson was fired not because of her gender but because she posed a threat to Knight’s marriage. In January, Nelson’s attorney, Paige Fiedler, asked the court to reconsider.

Justice Edward Mansfield said, in Friday’s decision, that the court was emphasizing “the limits of our decision.” Nelson, he said, didn’t bring a sexual harassment or hostile work environment claim, which might have been resolved differently.