Nelson filed a lawsuit alleging gender discrimination, arguing she would not have been terminated if she was male. She did not allege sexual harassment because Knight’s conduct may not have risen to that level and didn’t particularly offend her, Fiedler said.
Knight argued Nelson was fired not because of her gender, but because her continued employment threatened his marriage. A district judge agreed, dismissing the case before trial, and the high court upheld that ruling.
Mansfield noted that Knight had an all-female workforce and Nelson was replaced by a woman.
He said the decision was in line with state and federal court rulings that found workers can be fired for relationships that cause jealousy and tension within a business owner’s family. One such case from the 8th Circuit Court of Appeals upheld a business owner’s firing of a valued employee who was seen by his wife as a threat to their marriage. In that case, the fired employee had engaged in flirtatious conduct.
Mansfield said allowing Nelson’s lawsuit would stretch the definition of discrimination to allow anyone fired over a relationship to file a claim arguing they would not have been fired but for their gender.
Knight’s attorney, Stuart Cochrane, said the court got it right. The decision clarified that bosses can make decisions showing favoritism to a family member without committing discrimination; in this case, by allowing Knight to honor his wife’s wishes to fire Nelson, he said.
Knight is a very religious and moral individual, and he sincerely believed that firing Nelson would be best for all parties, he said.
“While there was really no fault on the part of Mrs. Nelson, it was just as clear the decision to terminate her was not related to the fact that she was a woman,” he said. “The motives behind Dr. Knight terminating Mrs. Nelson were quite clear: He did so to preserve his marriage.
“I don’t view this as a decision that was either pro-women or opposed to women rights at all. In my view, this was a decision that followed the appropriate case law.”