A dentist who fired his assistant because he found her to be an "irresistible attraction" and a threat to his marriage was within his legal rights to do so, a US court has ruled.
Melissa Nelson, 32, was fired from her job as a dental nurse in Iowa after her employer, James Knight, found her tight clothing and behaviour to be a distraction.
No sexual relationship ever occurred between the dentist and his employee of 10 years. However, the all-male Iowa State Supreme Court ruled that Dr Knight, 53, was within his legal rights when he fired Mrs Nelson, affirming the decision of a lower court.
The sacking did not constitute unlawful discrimination because it was motivated by feelings and emotions and not gender, the Iowa Supreme Court ruled.
"I think it is completely wrong," Mrs Nelson, a mother of two, told ABC News in the US.
"I think it is sending a message that men can do whatever they want in the work force.
"I was very surprised after working so many years side-by-side. I didn't have any idea that that would have crossed his mind."
Her lawyer, Paige Fiedler, said the "appalling" decision failed to recognise discrimination against women in the workforce.
"These judges sent a message to Iowa women that they don't think men can be held responsible for their sexual desires and that Iowa women are the ones who have to monitor and control their bosses' sexual desires," she told the Huffington Post.
"If they get out of hand, then the women can be legally fired for it."
Dr Knight had employed Mrs Nelson for 10 years, and he acknowledged in court documents that she was a good worker.
However, in the final months of her employment, Dr Knight began to make comments about her clothing being too tight or distracting.
"Dr Knight acknowledges he once told Nelson that if she saw his pants bulging, she would know her clothing was too revealing," the Supreme Court justices wrote.
Six months before Mrs Nelson was fired, she and her boss began exchanging text messages about work and personal matters, including their children's activities, the justices wrote.
The messages were mostly mundane, but Mrs Nelson recalled one text she received from her boss asking "how often she experienced an orgasm".
Mrs Nelson did not respond to the text and never indicated that she was uncomfortable with Dr Knight's question, according to court documents.
He allegedly also once commented on her infrequent sex life by saying: "That's like having a Lamborghini in the garage and never driving it."
Soon after, Dr Knight's wife, Jeanne, who also worked at the dental practice, found out about the text messages and ordered her husband to fire Mrs Nelson.
The husband and wife consulted a pastor at their church, who was present when Dr Knight fired Mrs Nelson in 2010.
Mrs Nelson's husband said he later spoke to Dr Knight, who told him that he was worried that he was getting too personally attached and feared he would eventually try to start an affair with her.
Mrs Nelson filed a lawsuit alleging gender discrimination, arguing she would not have been terminated if she was male.
Dr Knight argued Mrs 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.
Dr Knight's lawyer, Stuart Cochrane, said the dentist believed firing Mrs Nelson would result in the best outcome.
"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 told the Huffington Post.
"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."