An update to the case of the "irresistible" dental assistant

March 12, 2013
We'd love to hear your thoughts on the case.

When news of the firing of Melissa Nelson, a dental assistant in Iowa, and the circumstances surrounding it first made news, I wrote an editorial about the situation. It was one of the most popular articles at the end of 2012 and start of 2013 on and received numerous comments from readers. You can click here to read my thoughts on the case.

This month, the ADAA provided their own view on the case, which we have listed below.

The Supreme Court of Iowa recently decided that a dentist did not engage in gender discrimination when he fired a dental assistant at the request of his wife. According to ABC TV news, the dentist found his assistant “irresistible.” The dentist’s attorney said that her "dress and behavior were inappropriate."

The American Dental Assistants Association (ADAA) speaks for approximately 300,000 dental assistants in the United States. After researching available documentation regarding the case, "we were disappointed in the findings of the Court," said Carolyn Breen, Ed.D.,CDA, RDA, RDH, President of the Association. "We feel that the Court failed to recognize the human dynamics that exist in any employment setting as there appear to have been multiple issues and additional underlying factors affecting the case."

As part of appropriate business practice and standard human resource protocols, it is the responsibility of the employer to conduct formal, ongoing performance appraisals, identify perceived "weaknesses," and implement remedial measures for performance enhancement. A "surprise" firing leaves no room for appropriate due process and remediation, which can lead to misunderstanding and, in this case, legal action which might have been prevented.

While an employer acting in this manner may not have been found guilty of breaching any laws in the eyes of the Court, the employer is certainly responsible for questionable action resulting in a far-reaching negative impact on the employee. ADAA President Breen and the Board of Trustees feel that the dental assistant should have been made aware of specific performance issues in a timely fashion. An identified course of action to enhance performance within a designated timeline should have been outlined and implemented. Despite the fact that the Court found no fault with the dentist’s actions, there might have been a more appropriate course of action taken by the employer to resolve the situation, resulting in a more positive outcome for all involved.

The ADAA is America's oldest and largest dental assisting association serving an estimated 300,000 dental assistants in the United States. It is dedicated to the development and recognition of professionalism through education, membership services and public awareness programs. The ADAA is a strong advocate for legislation mandating credentialing for clinical dental assistants and greater recognition of the assistant's role as valuable members of the dental team.

So what do you think about the case? We’d love to hear your thoughts through feedback you can leave below.

RELATED ARTICLE: An office manager implodes on Facebook