|Will Melissa Nelson finally succeed with her grievance?|
Monday, July 1, 2013
Iowa case of Melissa Nelson gets curiouser
Oh, the frame of mind hasn't vanished completely. Cultural norms and attitudes don't change all that abruptly. But let's be blunt: Our manner of evaluating the opposite sex has evolved, and done so very constructively.
We have seen a retreat of what I'd call the "rat pack" set of attitudes. You remember, Dean Martin, Sammy Davis Jr. et al.? We can look back at all that as rather cute and innocuous. It seems harmless now that it's gone. Drooling over women with "curves." The "36-24-36" mystique. "Blonde bombshells." And along with that, an affinity with alcoholic drinks. Staying up late. Sharing off-color jokes.
We do see remnants of all this stuff. I just didn't expect to see it coming from an organization like the Iowa Supreme Court. Perhaps they all had their cocktail glasses handy as they rendered their judgment that put this all-male body in the news. Otherwise, who the heck would care about the Iowa Supreme Court? We're talking about "the woman fired for being too irresistible." It's almost embarrassing to write about.
Musburger is just an entertainer trying to make football interesting from his broadcast booth. We can be amused. A state supreme court is supposed to be an august body soberly weighing things. But this court has "stepped in it." A few days ago we learned they have had to take steps to try to backtrack. A sex discrimination lawsuit may have new life now. Maybe now it will be decided on the proper criteria, not as if the "rat pack" were occupying those chairs. Come to think of it, didn't Sammy Davis Jr. do a "here come the judge" routine on "Laugh In?"
It's rare for justices to grant petitions to rehear a case. But the Iowa Supreme Court, giving a definite impression of being beleaguered, has withdrawn its original judgment, unanimous no less, made in December. This is about the woman "fired because of her looks." You might say "you can't make this stuff up." The court will not hear new evidence. But we're likely to see a new opinion.
The decision to grant a re-hearing wouldn't happen unless someone was considering "changing his mind." The woman getting all this undesired attention is Melissa Nelson. She's actually a married mother of two. Based on the facts of this story, you might expect Nelson to look like Pamela Anderson Lee. Pamela represents the old, steadily declining template for how men, especially lecherous men, judged women. My headline about Musburger talked about "babes." This is how men used to talk. Some still do, just like some still smoke, drink and swear.
We eagerly looked for a photo of Nelson to see what kind of "bombshell" she might be. This in and of itself was degrading. It subjected her to disrespectful scrutiny. So, she has already suffered.
Is she "good looking?" I don't care. I don't wish to test my criteria for making such a judgment. The (lecherous?) men on the Iowa Supreme Court have no business doing so either. If they could all just suppress their hard-ons for a few seconds, we'd all be better off. Iowa can seek better ways to get in the news. Come to think of it, Iowa stumbles in this regard.
The Iowa caucuses might be their biggest claim to fame. Poor Iowa. After weeks of breathless media coverage focusing on the jockeying of the various candidates in Iowa, we got the climax of Mitt Romney being announced as the GOP winner. Albeit this was by a narrow margin, so narrow as to be called a "statistical tie" by Lawrence O'Donnell of MSNBC. As time went on we heard rumblings about how things may not have been completely in order with the Iowa GOP. Finally there was the revelation: It was Rick Santorum, not Romney, winning those pivotal caucuses.
I suppose Romney was sort of "anointed" by the GOP powers-that-be from the beginning, right? The Republicans are like that: the nomination goes to the guy whose "turn it is." It was Romney. But I resented the trainwreck that was the Iowa GOP caucuses. Thanks for nothing.
And now we can say "thanks for nothing" to the Iowa Supreme Court. The justices will try to put Band-Aids on an open wound. The public reaction to the December decision has been negative. Our judicial system is not insulated from public opinion.
Melissa Nelson spent ten apparently happy years as a dental hygienist for Dr. James Knight. This was until Dr. Knight blindsided her with a pink slip. Nelson was judged a "threat to his marriage."
Those rat pack justices ruled that Dr. Knight was within his legal limits because "the firing wasn't based on gender." Stu Cochrane is trying to put on a game face as Knight's attorney. It's like the attorney for the guy who tried to sue Minneapolis blogger John Hoff. We all knew the original judgment in that case was going to get overturned. It took a while but it got overturned. What should have been judged as a defamation case turned into "tortious interference." I felt tortured, just as I do now observing that beleaguered Iowa Supreme Court.
Six months before the firing, Dr. Knight and Nelson began exchanging text messages but it seemed quite innocuous, as the texts pertained to work and family matters such as children's activities. Indeed, men and women can have relationships that don't have sex as a component. Not all of it was innocuous. On one occasion the dentist sent a text asking how often Nelson experienced an orgasm. She didn't respond but didn't complain. Was the onus on her to complain?
Dr. Knight's wife also worked at the practice. She discovered the text messaging and ordered her husband to fire Nelson. Oh my, the couple consulted the senior pastor at their church, apparently a Brent Musburger type, and he said Nelson "should be fired to protect (the Knights') marriage."
Dr. Knight reportedly told Nelson's husband "she's a big threat to our marriage." What a bizarre story. Can't a sound marriage withstand some outside stimuli? The dentist feared he might attempt an affair with Nelson if the two remained professionally associated.
The Iowa Supreme Court reasoned in its "tortuous" (not tortious) way that sexual harassment wasn't the issue because the real issue was "emotions tied to a specific relationship and not based solely on a person's gender." Nelson earlier this year had asked the court to reconsider. On Monday, June 24, Chief Justice Mark Cady signed an order resubmitting Nelson's lawsuit for consideration by the court. There will be no further oral arguments or additional input from Dr. Knight. It's just a re-evaluation now.
What pushed the justices off the plane of sound reason in the first place? The ACLU applauds the re-consideration. The ACLU argues that while you don't have the right to dress any way you want at work, you have "the right to be a woman."
Nelson's suit says she was fired based on Dr. Knight's "irresistible attraction to her." The justices originally said "civil rights laws seek equality, but the firing doesn't jeopardize that goal." Juxtapose this sterile reasoning with how Dr. Knight acknowledged that "he once told Nelson that if she saw his pants bulging, she would know her clothing was too revealing." This kind of language is right in line with the "rat pack." It's a little charming or amusing if you look at it in an outdated context.
Musburger's comments were likewise, if you view him as a mere entertainer, supplying "color" for a sport, football, which itself might be outdated because of the exploding revelations about its health dangers.
Our world and civilization continually evolve. The criteria by which a certain category of men evaluated women can be dismissed. Maybe the Iowa Supreme Court is getting the message. As for the Iowa GOP, it's probably hopeless.
- Brian Williams - morris mn minnesota - firstname.lastname@example.org