A case out of Iowa this month reminds many employers here in Florida just how thin of a line they walk when they fire employees of the opposite sex, even if their reasoning is backed by the law.
According to court documents, a 32-year-old woman filed a lawsuit against her former employer claiming that she was wrongfully terminated from her job as a dental assistant because of gender discrimination. But when her former employer pointed out that he was the only male among an all-female workforce, it quickly became apparent that she had been terminated for other reasons.
The dentist, a 53-year-old married man, admitted that he had become attracted to his assistant and feared that her constant presence in the workplace could eventually threaten his marriage. As his lawyer explained, "[He] is a very religious and moral individual, and he sincerely believed that firing [her] would be best for all parties."
Business disputes such as this can be particularly difficult to settle because moral and ethical standings interfere with employment law which can create particularly difficult situations. Although the Iowa Supreme Court ruled in favor of the employer, pointing out that Iowa law allows for the termination of workers if the relationship with that employee causes tension within a business owner's family, this may not be the case in every state.
There's a fine line between what an employer may view as defusing an inappropriate relationship and what an employee may view as gender discrimination. Being able to see the difference between the two may take the keen eye of a business law expert; at least this way, you know you're following the laws to the letter, potentially avoiding messing litigation in the future.
Source: ABC News, "Melissa Nelson fired for being 'irresistible'; Iowa court rules in favor of boss who terminated her," The Associated Press, Dec. 23, 2012