Detroit Enforces Policy on Scents after Settling Lawsuit

March 15, 2010 ( - Detroit officials announced plans to place placards in three city buildings detailing scented products to avoid due to a settlement in a federal lawsuit filed by a city planner in 2008 and settled last month.

According to the Detroit News, Susan McBride was awarded $100,000 to settle charges under the Americans with Disabilities Act that the City failed to provide accommodations for her life-long sensitivity to perfumes, chemicals, and other scented objects. The placards to be placed in the Cadillac Square Building, Coleman A. Young Municipal Center, and First National Building will ask employees to refrain from “wearing scented products, including … colognes, aftershave lotions, perfumes, deodorants, body/face lotions … (and) the use of scented candles, perfume samples from magazines, spray or solid air fresheners …”       

Under the settlement, other notices will go in the new employee handbook and mentioned in ADA training, the news report said.      

In 2008, U.S. District Judge Lawrence P. Zatkoff of the U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of Michigan ruled that Susan McBride could pursue her ADA claims finding that her condition is a disability that limits a major life activity because it causes her trouble breathing (see   ‘Scents’itivity Covered under ADA).      

McBride’s said a coworker was wearing perfumes/oils, using a plug-in air freshener in the reception area, and using air fresheners and potpourri in the restroom. After McBride complained to her immediate supervisor about the difficulties she was experiencing, the coworker ceased using the plug-in air fresheners but did not stop wearing perfumes/oils.       

McBride filed a charge with the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC), which dismissed the charge in April 2007, so she sought the help of her union representative to institute a policy change regarding the use of scents in the workplace. The HR Department rejected a department-wide scent policy and did little else to formulate any other type of policy.       

There were discussions about relocating either McBride’s workstation or her coworker’s workstation, but neither was relocated.       

McBride then filed suit alleging that she suffers from a disability and the city failed to provide her with a reasonable accommodation, as required by the ADA.      

In 2005, a federal court jury awarded $10.6 million to a Detroit disc jockey whose severe allergy to a colleague’s perfume ultimately led to the disc jockey being fired by a country music radio station (see Fired DJ Wins $10M Jury Award in Perfume Suit).