Every now and then there is an embarrassingly backwards judicial ruling so steeped in prejudice that years later it still haunts our collective conscious as a stain on our nation's history. The 1857 Dred Scott ruling in which the Supreme Court found that all people who look like me -- black Americans -- were not actual American citizens at all and therefore could be enslaved comes to mind. Another is the 1892 Plessy versus Ferguson decision which upheld the "separate but equal" fallacy that allowed legalized segregation to remain the law of the land.
And apparently in the eyes of some outraged bloggers and commenters, a ruling that allowed a woman to be fired because her boss and his wife deemed her too attractive is another.
For those of you who have actually been enjoying the holidays with your families and therefore have no idea what I'm talking about, allow me to catch you up. Iowa's high court ruled that dentist James Knight did not violate the law in firing a woman he found attractive, and his wife, who also worked in his dental practice, deemed a threat. I can definitely see the parallels between this case and other landmark discrimination cases. (That was sarcasm in case you missed it.)
What I find baffling about this ruling is not that it is steeped in Dred Scott levels of discrimination. (It's not.) But that it is getting any news coverage at all.
Here's the dirty little secret most of us don't want to admit. Many of us wonder about the attractiveness of the people our significant others work closely with and many of us inquire about it too (either blatantly or covertly, and yes Facebook snooping counts), and with good reason. According to the experts, nearly half of all affairs begin at work.
But the other thing I find surprising is that anyone is attempting to make a legitimate argument that this case has anything at all to do with gender discrimination. Attractiveness discrimination perhaps, but in case you haven't heard being cute or hot is not a protected class. (Sorry all you supermodels.)
For all of those outraged that a man would have the audacity to fire a woman who his wife deemed a threat, let me ask you this. Would you feel the same way if it was a woman doing the firing? What if the employee in question had been a live-in nanny, and the wife fired her? Because newsflash, this happens all the time. In light of the number of celebrities, from Jude Law, to Ethan Hawke who have gotten cozy with the help, an article from the New York Daily News, highlighted some of the steps some women take to protect their marriages from the family's nanny. You may be utterly shocked to discover that some of those precautions include hiring and firing nannies based on -- wait for it -- their looks! Shocking, I know.
There's a reason that Lifetime Movie Network is filled with tale after tale of relationships thrown off-balance by a hot nanny or even hotter assistant or a hot male tennis instructor, because plenty of real-life relationships have been -- making it one of the ultimate fears of plenty of women, and men -- a fear that is not entirely unfounded. As I have written before, we as a society discriminate based on looks all the time. More attractive people routinely get paid more, so do taller men. But the downside is occasionally a threatened spouse may have Ms. Good-lookin' or Mr. Tall fired. Do I think this is unfair? Sure. Just proves life's not 100 percent fair for anyone even beauty queens. That's life.
I think the real reason the Iowa case has captured national attention is because when most of us find out our boyfriend, girlfriend, husband or wife is working or maybe even traveling regularly, with someone who makes us feel insecure either because of his or her super-good looks or because of an emotional connection we sense our significant other is developing with that person, we are powerless to do anything about it. We may complain to our girlfriends or our moms, and cross our fingers and say a prayer that the person we are in a relationship with is as honest, and trustworthy as we have always hoped. And then maybe we hit the gym a little harder or try to spice things up at home a little more. But this wife did something most of us don't have the power to do. She had the woman fired. It may have made her ripe for national ridicule but guess what? Her marriage is still in tact. I wonder how many women -- from Sienna Miller to the countless others who have found themselves usurped by an attractive person, male or female -- who worked super close with a significant other would rather be ridiculed and still coupled, versus the alternative.
The fired dental assistant certainly has my sympathies. But if she's as attractive as the dentist, his wife and the seven justices seem to think she is, then she will be fine professionally. Now if she weren't "irresistibly attractive" she might have more to worry about. Further proof that life is not fair, but not everything that is unfair warrants a lawsuit.
Keli Goff is the author of The GQ Candidate and a Political Correspondent for TheRoot.com