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Too Sexy For Work: Is there more to the story of the woman fired because her boss found her irresistible?

I pledge to respect myself, my profession, my friends and always demand respect from the man in my life

Dental assistant Melissa Nelson had worked in Dr James Knight’s office for 10 years. According to the court reported facts, one January day in 2010, Dr Knight fired her because “their relationship had become a detriment to his family“. The doctor later told Melissa’s own husband that “nothing was going on but that he feared he would try to have an affair with her down the road if he did not fire her.”

Her story lead to an outcry of sexual discrimination claiming that this case endorsed the sexist view that men have no responsibility to control themselves. The Iowa court disagreed and sided with Dr Knight. However, after hearing the whole story, it might just give you pause for thought.

You see, Melissa and James were more than professional colleagues. While Melissa described him as a ‘father figure’ she treated him like a confident and friend. They texted regularly outside of work discussing mostly innocuous things but, once or twice, there were comments about Melissa’s sex life. Dr Knight openly and admitted that he found her attractive and Dr Knight’s own wife, who also worked in the practice, testified that they often stayed late in the office together for no reason. It was Mrs Knight, herself, who demanded that her husband fire Melissa and it seems she had some significant grounds for concern.

Are there some serious Pink lessons to be learnt here:

1. Don’t expect to be treated professionally if you don’t act professionally

Men do have an obligation to control their urges. That is why we have sexual harassment legislation. However, if you actively cross the line of ‘colleagues’ into ‘friends or more’ then those new ‘social’ rules apply. Especially when in a close working relationship with someone, its even more important to maintain healthy boundaries. Find your friends outside work and office romance is almost always bound for, at the least, a frosty working environment down the road, if not employment hell.

2. Be a sister and respect your friend’s relationships

So many women I know won’t introduce their boyfriends to their female friends. We have developed a complete mistrust of other women and bred an environment of competitiveness. We need healthy friendships with women. We need peers who we trust. That isn’t going to happen until we start to, at the minimum, respect each other.

3. Stick up for yourself

We should be disgusted, that some news outlets called Mrs Knight ‘jealous’ or suggested that she did anything wrong. Its antithetical to support Melissa’s behaviour which was, at the least, unprofessional, but condemn Mrs Knight’s who was acting to protect her established family.¬†Drawing ‘do not cross’ lines is the sign of a strong woman not a weak one. Attempting to salvage a marriage and rise above her husband’s indiscretions, even if they were never acted upon, is extremely difficult and she should be commended.

The villain in the case is surely Dr Knight. He probably cheated on his wife. He definitely disrespected her and his position of authority with Melissa. Cheating men still have a long way to go but suggesting that the women with which they cheat are perfect, blameless, paragons of virtue is disingenuous. Let our mantra be:

I pledge to respect myself, my profession, my friends and always demand respect from the man in my life


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