'Scents'itivity Covered under ADA

December 1, 2008 (PLANSPONSOR.com) - The U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of Michigan has determined an employee who claimed a coworker's perfume aggravated a lifelong medical condition can proceed with her suit under the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA).

U.S. District Judge Lawrence P. Zatkoff ruled that Susan McBride’s condition was a disability that limited a major life activity because it caused her trouble breathing. McBride also argued that her condition caused her to have to avoid certain situations where she could be exposed to perfumes, air fresheners, or other irritants, and that the medications she took to control her symptoms interfered with fertility treatments, limiting her ability to reproduce. The court denied those arguments.

McBride suffers from a life-long sensitivity to perfumes, chemicals, and other scented objects. When she is exposed to such scents, she experiences migraine headaches, nausea, chest tightness, coughing, loss of voice, a scratchy throat, and rhinitis.

According to the opinion, McBride’s 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, and she sought the help of her union representative to institute a policy change regarding the use of scents in the workplace, the opinion said. 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, an employee for the city of Detroit, 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.

The case is McBride v. The City of Detroit. The original lawsuit is available  here . The court ruling is available  here .