Friday, June 14, 2013

Things Which Can Get You Fired: Beauty and Being the Target of Domestic Abuse

Last year it was beauty:

Dental assistant Melissa Nelson was fired for being too attractive, so she sued her employer. But Iowa's Supreme Court has upheld her firing as lawful.
In general, looking good is a positive trait. Attractive people tend to get paid more and get promoted more frequently.
But the opposite was true for dental assistant Melissa Nelson. Her employer viewed her as "irresistible" and a "threat" to his marriage, so he fired her. And according to Iowa's all-male Supreme Court, that was perfectly fine, ABC News reports.
Nelson did nothing wrong.  She didn't try to seduce her employer, she acted professionally and did her job well.  Her firing was declared legal because it was based on an unprotected characteristic of workers, "beauty," and not on her gender or race or age. In a weird way it was her employer who acted unprofessionally.

But the Iowa all-male Supreme Court's argument that this has nothing to do with Nelson's gender is a bit simplistic.  It has quite a bit to do with gender roles and the fact that looks are regarded as much more important for women than for men.   And it seems that at least in Iowa you can now fire someone for how they look.

The more recent case tells us that in some cases it may be acceptable to fire someone because that person is the target of a potentially violent abuser.  The woman with the abusive ex-spouse, Carie Charlesworth, teaches young children and the Catholic Diocese running the school she worked in decided to have her around is too big a risk.  So she was let go:

It’s a story that has domestic violence advocates outraged, fearing it will only reinforce an age-old problem where victims stay silent — but equally concerned are the school's parents, not wanting their kids in the middle of it.
“Basically, we’d had a very bad weekend with him, we’d called the sheriff’s department three times on Sunday with him,” said Charlesworth, referring to an incident in January that put her leave of absence in motion. 
She went to her principal at Holy Trinity School in El Cajon the following morning and told the principal to be on the lookout for her ex-husband.  As many domestic violence cases go, this one has a trail of restraining orders and 911 calls. When Charlesworth’s ex-husband showed up in the school parking lot, the school went into lockdown. 
Charlesworth and her four kids, who also attended Holy Trinity School, have not been back since the January incident. A letter was sent home to parents the following day, explaining the situation and noting Charlesworth and her children were being put "on an indefinite leave.”
While Charlesworth’s husband went to jail on two felony charges, she says she felt like a criminal too.
“And that’s what it felt like, the kids and I were being punished for something we didn’t even do,” she told NBC 7 San Diego.
Three months later, another letter arrived in the mail delivering a crushing blow.  Charlesworth was fired for good, and after 14 years in the district not allowed to teach at any other Diocesan school.

What both of these cases share is the innocence of the workers who got fired.  The firings were to protect someone else.  In the domestic abuse case, those are the children at the school, in the beauty case those are the dentist and his wife and their marital harmony.