Update: “Judge says perfume lawsuit can proceed”

Susan McBride, who works as a planner with the city of Detroit, can proceed with her ADA lawsuit “alleging a co-worker’s perfume made it difficult for her to breathe and impossible to do her job, a federal judge has ruled.” (Paul Egan, Detroit News, Nov. 27, opinion in PDF courtesy Bashman, h/t reader Vicky Gannon). We covered the case earlier here, here, and here.


  • This is an interesting problem. Suppose McBride’s olfactory problem exists entirely in her head (no pun intended). Does the ADA still protect her. After all, it’s a disability. What exactly can Detroit do to help her? I mean other than the obvious way of paying her to not work — what I presume she’s really after. If it’s psychological, what would prevent her from making continuous claims (“this room smells bad”, “the air conditioning gives me breathing problems”, “the rug gives me headaches”, etc.)? Also, is this a pre-existing condition? If not, how could Detroit have foreseen it?

    I wonder, can I file an ADA claim based upon my severe work allergy?

  • I appear to have a disability that should be recompensable. Every time I read stories like this, I get a burning pain in my backside. Is my case of action against the court, the Congress, or Ms McBride?

    I didn’t go seeking out information about her and her allergies. That information thrust itself into my awareness while I was just sitting here browsing. How do I know where it will next appear?

    Anyway, this is just another instance of pushing the individual over society. I believe Canadian city of Halifax has banned the wearing of scents in the workplace as well.

  • What if the employee’s scent is a part of her religion? What’s an employer to do now? What does a candle company do if an employee is sensitive to the smell? The world of ADA law is bad enough. Come Jan. 1, with the ADA AA, we’re going to see this only get worse.

  • Seems just as valid as a Tobacco Smoke in the workplace claim, where some folks are effected and some are not.

    If we do it to one industry, why not another; assuming perfume adversely effects one or more people (which it does). Think it should be a fair and balanced justice system for all, not just a singled out industry, like tobacco.

  • There are many, many people who are at risk of serious reactions to these unregulated chemicals (fragrances), of which their components are not so different in chemical composition as gasoline! Without even including persons with serious chemical sensitivity problems, so many more have common asthma and other lung conditions. Keep it out of the workplace, where all employees should have a right to clean air to breathe, devoid of the typical chemical cocktail stews that many have now become.

  • Wonderful James. But exactly why is this the employer’s fault and why is the employer on the hook potentially for 7 figures? Regulate perfume out of the marketplace. It’s not the employer’s duty to regulate perfume. Where does it end? My deodorant causes you problems so I have to stink? Then my stink causes you problems, so I have to bathe with fragrance free soap?

  • I’ve noticed that many who advocate for the seriousness of chemical sensitivity claims – as in this case the plaintiff, her lawyer, and Alison Johnson of the CS Foundation – do so from the perspective of victims who suffer a genuine disability. But perhaps it would be more useful, and more protective of the environment and all livings things in and on it, to focus on the actual toxicity of the offending substances. People who are sickened by perfumes, household cleaning products, acrylics in nail salons, paints and lacquers, and chemicals or glues in new building materials, are simply reacting the way any normal person would if they knew how bad this stuff is. They are the proverbial canaries in the coal mine. Meanwhile, many who haven’t a clue of the toxins present in everyday products we all use, are finding they need in vitro fertility treatments, developing mysterious respiratory ailments, have “aging” diseases like arthritis and forgetfulness at earlier and earlier ages, without knowing where or how this happened. Our government fails to protect us from many chemicals that are banned in most industrialized nations – chemicals showing up in our food, soil, water, air, medicines, cosmetics, cleaning products, etc. It is primarily these “sick” and “disabled” individuals who are actually sounding the warning bell for all of us. Let’s hope we heed it before it’s too late.

  • […] You might think Doris Sexton’s main problem is the chronic lung condition she’s got from smoking a pack a day for 43 years. The smell of the co-worker’s perfume, however, she argues, exacerbated that ailment. A New Jersey court has allowed her workers’ compensation lawsuit to go forward. [Insurance Journal] For ADA lawsuits involving perfume, follow links from here. […]