In our ongoing series, here is reason #471 why the media is held in such disrepute. As I went through Saturday’s news headlines, I was outraged by the decision from the Iowa Supreme Court upholding the firing of a dental assistant because she was “too attractive” and the dentist “worried he would try to start an affair.” The notion that a woman would be deprived of her livelihood because of potential misbehavior by her boss kind of violated my sense of fair treatment.
Then I read the opinion of the court which you can read here. It turns out that the assistant was not fired for either reason. She was fired because the wife of the dentist uncovered the extent of the personal relationship between her husband and the assistant – although she probably did not uncover the full extent until depositions. She then demanded the assistant be fired in the interests of preserving their marriage.
The dentist and the assistant had a personal relationship that carried over to non-work hours, although nothing in the court’s opinion would suggest that it went beyond a friendship. While the two engaged in colloquy that could have been the basis for a complaint of sexual harassment, the relationship was consensual with the assistant never objecting to some of the more colorful comments by her boss. One such example would be the dentist informing her that “if she saw his pants bulging, she would know her clothing was too revealing.”
The sole basis for the court’s opinion was whether “a male employer [can] terminate a long-time female employee because the employer’s wife, due to no fault of the employee, is concerned about the nature of the relationship between the employer and the employee.” Nothing about either her appearance or his fear he may sometime want an affair. (Indeed, a justice concurring in the opinion observed that “an employer cannot legally fire an employee simply because the employer finds the employee too attractive.” )
The reality of the court’s decision, of course, would not make for as interesting a headline as many media outlets (including The Paper of Record) used in describing this case, many based an a report by the Associated Press. I am afraid we can also now expect a flurry of uninformed commentary from those on both the left and the right who cannot resist what appears to be a juicy controversy. But it’s not the Sean Hannity’s of the world who worry me. It is The New York Times. If respect for government institutions is at an all-time low – for some understandable reasons – falsely portraying a well-reasoned court opinion does not serve the interests of those who think there should be a modicum of respect for those institutions.