Ponnada: Too 'hot' to work

BY SRI PONNADA | JULY 02, 2013 5:00 AM

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The Iowa Supreme Court announced last week that it will reconsider the case of Melissa Nelson — a dental assistant in Webster County who was fired in 2010 for being “too hot” and, thus, a threat to her boss’s marriage.

I’ve heard of women, including some of my own friends, who weren’t hired to work at certain places because the employer (Abercrombie & Fitch) thought they weren’t attractive enough. And now we have Nelson who was, I guess, overqualified?

Nelson filed a sex-discrimination lawsuit against her ex-employer, contending that she had been wrongfully terminated from her job of 10 years. Because Nelson was not suing for sexual harassment, the Iowa Supreme Court had to determine “whether an employee who has not engaged in flirtatious contact may be lawfully terminated simply because the boss views the employee as an irresistible attraction.”

To the outrage of many women (and to the surprise of very few …), the all-male court backed Nelson’s boss and ruled 7-0 that it is completely legal for bosses to fire their irresistibly attractive employees. Justice Edward Mansfield wrote that although such firings may be unfair, they do not amount to unlawful discrimination under the Iowa Civil Rights Act because they are motivated by feelings and emotions rather than gender.

The court’s decision set a clear precedent in allowing employers to fire employees based on their looks and subsequently generated intense national controversy and public backlash. That may be the reason that the Iowa Supreme Court — which has only reconsidered five cases in the past 10 years — (thankfully) decided to re-evaluate this one.

It is, of course, not OK for a woman to get fired for being too sexy. Sure, I could understand firing someone for dressing inappropriately. (Remember, ladies, club clothes are not work clothes.) But that’s not what this ruling is about. A woman could get fired for wearing or even looking like … virtually anything. All that matters is whether or not your boss has the hots for you.

Imagine this: You’re a cashier at McDonald’s. Your uniform is a polo, slacks, and a hat. One day, your boss comes up to you and says, “Sorry girl, I’m gonna have to let you go because, well, the way your head looks in that hat … I’m just loving it.”

Right now, in Iowa, there is nothing (legally) wrong with that.

Firing a woman because she is “too hot” is in fact discriminatory. Deeming the practice acceptable only further cements the belief that women should be responsible for the way others react to their appearance. At this point, however, I’m not aware of any telepathic powers by which a woman can make her boss attracted to her.

To further prove that this is a form of discrimination, let’s reverse the situation at hand.

Could a woman be fired because her boss is repulsed by her appearance to the point of immobility? It’s conceivable. After all, said woman isn’t being terminated due to her sex but because of her boss’s feelings and emotions.

Would that fictitious situation actually fly in any court? I don’t think so; the discrimination is plain.

Ultimately, this is an issue of how women are viewed in society. It’s a problem if we’re not perceived to be attractive enough, and it’s a problem if we’re too attractive for our own good. It really is disappointing to see that work ethic, intelligence, and other important qualities and skills still aren’t what matter.

Women are continually being judged mostly based on their physical appearance, and this obsession with beauty is starting to show some pretty ugly effects.

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