City settles lawsuit with former police clerk who requested a fragrance-free workplace

The City of Edmonds has settled a lawsuit with a former police clerk who said her migraine headaches were due to fragrances she was exposed to on the job.

Anne Johnson and her attorney Judith Longquist received a $510,000 settlement in a Jan. 23 Snohomish County Superior Court judgment. Longquist said the judgment followed a four-year case “arising out of the city’s refusal to accommodate Ms. Johnson’s disability.”

Longquist said that Johnson had asked that the police clerk’s office be made a fragrance-free zone so she could work there “without the debilitating migraine headache that she suffered when exposed to heavy fragrances and odors.” After the city didn’t take action, Longquist said, Johnson quit and filed a lawsuit alleging disability discrimination and illegal failure to accommodate.

City Attorney Sharon Cates of Lighthouse Law Group said that the city was represented in the case by attorneys hired by the city’s risk pool, Washington Cities Insurance Authority (WCIA). The attorneys settled Johnson’s lawsuit “to avoid the time and expense of trial and to avoid further expenditures in the city’s defense,” Cates said. “Several large jury verdicts against government employers have made the defense of these types of lawsuits very risky for public entities, regardless of the strength or weakness of the employee’s claims.”

Cates also said that during Johnson’s employment, the city did work with her — through the Americans with Disabilities Act’s interactive accommodation process — “to determine whether there was a reasonable accommodation the city could make that would assist her with her claimed symptoms.

“Unfortunately, Ms. Johnson made the decision to resign from her job prior to working through all the accommodation options with the city,” Cates continued. “The city does not believe Ms. Johnson’s case had merit, but understands its insurer’s business decision to settle the case.”

The city did not admit to wrongdoing or liability in settling the case, Cates said, adding that the $510,000 judgment includes a $225,000 payment to Johnson and a $285,000 payment for attorneys’ fees and costs.

“I still don’t understand why the City of Edmonds didn’t just issue a fragrance-free policy for the police clerk’s office that would have allowed me to work without migraines,” Johnson said in a statement, “but I’m pleased with the outcome and happy it’s over.”

 

 

32 Replies to “City settles lawsuit with former police clerk who requested a fragrance-free workplace”

    1. Every time I’m reminded about the unnamed heroes who volunteered to clean up the Chernobyl nuclear waste, I’m reminded of the hero Sweedish nurses who are striking for a little more pay and a little less work. Everytime I hear about the heroes at Swedish, who are scared of the general public but still make it to work to clock in, I’m reminded of the hero office clerk and her smell-headaches. I am starting a walk-athon. #SmellForTheCure

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    2. The city of Edmonds could have made the police clerks office fragrant-free, due to the fact it is her “disability”, and in not doing so it is considered disability discrimination. My childs 3rd grade teacher had the same problem so the kids couldn’t wear any strong scents including too strong of laundry soap.

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    3. FRAGRANCE FREE ORGANIZATIONS:
      Dalhousie University:
      https://www.dal.ca/dept/safety/programs-services/occupational-safety/scent-free.html

      Women’s College Hospital:
      http://www.womenscollegehospital.ca/news-and-events/Connect-2017/WCH-is-a-fragrance-free-environment

      McMaster University:
      https://www.degroote.mcmaster.ca/2017/09/19/mcmaster-university-share-air-policy/

      HOSPITALS with Fragrance Free Policies:
      ONTARIO
      1. Stevenson Memorial Hospital
      2. Hôtel-Dieu Grace Hospital
      3. The Ottawa Hospital
      4. Strat hroy Middlesex General Hospital
      5. Hanover District Hospital
      6. Thunder Bay Regional Health Sciences Centre
      7. St. Mary’s General Hospital
      8. Princess Margaret
      9. London Health Sciences/SJHC
      10. North Bay General Hospital
      11. Peterborough Regional Health Centre
      12. Grey Bruce Health Services
      13. Women’s College Hospital
      EW BRUNSWICK
      14. St John Regional Hospital
      NOVA SCOTIA
      15. Cape Breton Regional Health Authority

      The CDC (Center for Disease Control) recognizes MCS. Their Indoor Environmental Quality Policy from 2009 explicitly states: “Fragrance is not appropriate for a professional work environment, and the use of some products with fragrance may be detrimental to the health of workers with chemical sensitivities, allergies, asthma, and chronic headaches/migraines.” https://www.chemicalsensitivityfoundation.org/pdf/CDC-2009-Indoor-Environmental-Quality-internal-policy542.pdf

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    4. Actually, you are wrong. There are numerous facilities that have fragrance free policies in place to protect the products that are being manufactured or processed, and/or the patients and healthcare workers from contamination. It would be prudent for you to seek and read the court documents to determine why the award was as high as it was. More than likely the coworkers and bosses went crazy and increased the use of scented products to drive this person from her job. I’m not sure about Canada, but in the US disabilities and/or other protected classes must be disclosed upon hiring or they would not be protected. The other possibility is that the disability occurred after she was hired, in which case she was still protected by law. Weeding people out because they have a disability or other protected class consideration is illegal and there laws are needed because of people like you.

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  1. If they are that stupid to pay someone who is working the system..rediculous. If this woman can’t do the job because a her medical problem she should go on a medical sabbatical.
    I have Crohn’s disease so should they build me a toilet for myself?
    First they APPRECIATE a job, then they EXPECT certain things to be done for them, then they DEMAND it.

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    1. A person should not be denied a livelihood just because people want to wear scented products in the workplace.

      Keep the personal scents at home where they can be contained and not impact the health of others or pollute the air.

      If it were smoke, paint fumes, gas fumes, bleach, ammonia or smelly food you would expect your employer to clear the air so you could work.

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    2. Hardly the same thing Joy. These people had a choice to stop using fragrance products that were exacerbating a medical problem, forcing her to leave so she didn’t experience daily pain from migraine. It was a simple act to stop doing something. Putting in a toilet for someone who has a physiological illness that isn’t affected by their work environment is nothing like this.

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  2. Very simple. Just request no one wear cologne or scented hand lotion while at work. I have empathy for person with Crohn’s disease. But most people could care less that their perfume, etc makes someone sick! They can’t escape to the bathroom. The air is full of the perfume scent. Too bad this turned into a lawsuit.

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  3. The Department of Labor’s Job Accommodation Network has great resources for accommodations for Fragrance Free Workplace. The CDC made this policy for their buildings in 2009. The City of Detroit lost on this one too. It is not that hard to switch to a less toxic lifestyle. Everyone deserves clean indoor air void of toxic VOCs. Desert storm Vets have chemical sensitivity issues along with other era vets. These types of policies would help other patient populations too like asthmatics, autistics, COPD, cystic fibrosis, MCAS, and many more neurological diseases.

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    1. Its nonsense. Body Odor is a protected disability and not being around people with Body Odor is also a protected disability.
      https://www.indystar.com/story/news/2018/01/02/lawsuit-against-indianapolis-stems-workers-chronic-body-odor/987393001/

      Imagine if she sued her office because her coworkers are all Asian-Indian and ate high-curry foods. My white-%$# fabric softener is part of my cultural identity too. This basically paying people for their intolerance of others.

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      1. Body odor resulting from a metabolic disorder or hyperhidrosis would be considered a protected disability but body odor because of lack of hygiene is not. Your choice of foods nor body care products are not a protected class.

        Hoffman TILT Program: https://tiltresearch.org , Clean Indoor Air Campaign: https://cleanerindoorair.org/

        Maybe read some of Alison Johnson’s Books & Documentaries on MCS: http://alisonjohnsonmcs.com/ . She showcases the myriad of issues this has caused for Desert Storm Vets.

        These VOCs adversely affect many patient populations to include Asthmatics, Autistics with sensory issues, COPD, Cystic Fibrosis, Desert Storm Illness Veterans, MCS, MCAS, MS, Parkinson’s, and many more illness and diseases including Cancer patients sensitive after treatment.

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  4. Breena you get sued for one thing and many people want to sue for anything…it’s all about the money. Should our city attorney have told the city we needed to make sure that’s in any employee contract or initial hiring? Yes..and every other issue that we the people are paying for. WE citizens of Edmonds pay for these law suits not some tree growing cash in the back yard. How do we know the perfume scents didn’t come from outside sources? How can anyone prove it came from other employees??? Or where?

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    1. If you are fragrance sensitive. You can smell the perfume. What’s to prove? Could be any employee in your work area. Even in the stairway, hall or lunchroom in the work building. Just don’t wear perfume, etc to work. Simple… Just be kind to one another.

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    2. Joy, you’re right. If a city worker in that office had a bad case of IBS or halitosis they could sue the same office for opposite reason. One person smells and the other stinks, both are protected disabilities. Being blind and deaf are protected disabilities, but all bus drivers can see and all stenographers can hear. Being able to be around other people without getting sick is a critical requirement to being a clerk.

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  5. Life must be pretty miserable for Ms. Johnson. Like, what does she do if she gets on an airplane or other form of public transportation and is seated next to someone bathed in “ode de lilacs” or some such, with no other seating option? What does she do in any situation where large numbers of people are packed together and many of them are wearing perfumes and after shave lotions? Does she live in some sort of anti-fragrance bubble most of the time? My Goodness, can’t modern science come up with some sort of air filter she could have permanently attached to her nose or inside her nose to prevent any noxious odors from entering her delicate olfactory system? I’m sure glad we were able to provide some much needed funds to aid her in a search for the cure for this dread condition. Look at is the city’s contribution to the betterment of mankind.

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    1. These people do what they can to live as normal as possible without getting sick. If that means taking extra precautions like wearing masks or avoidance then that is what is done. Chastising this patient population does nothing but show your Ableism. If it was you or a precious family member you would see things differently. It very well may be you one day. Hope you dont work in an industry that is susceptible, like the Exxon Valdez oil spill.

      These VOCs adversely affect many patient populations to include Asthmatics, Autistics with sensory issues, COPD, Cystic Fibrosis, Desert Storm Illness Veterans, MCS, MCAS, MS, Parkinson’s, and many more illness and diseases including Cancer patients sensitive after treatment.

      Researchers have found 34.7 % of the population reported one or more types of adverse health effects from exposure to one or more types of fragrances products. (Steinemann 2018) Have you ever walked into an establishment and left it feeling dizzy, fatigued, having a headache, or some other symptom? According to an epidemiological study from the University of Washington, Seattle, over 40 million Americans suffer from one or several symptoms due to exposures to airborne chemicals of which many, though regarded generally as safe without testing, are toxic. For this reason, in this letter, I ask your organization to consider helping in eliminating or reducing sources of volatile chemical exposures on retail premises that evidence reveals to be harmful to human health.

      The authors of a study showed 11.2% of Americans reported an unusual hypersensitivity to common chemical products such as perfume, fresh paint, pesticides, and other petrochemical-based substances. Additionally, 31.1% of those sampled reported adverse reactions to fragranced products, and 17.6% experienced breathing difficulties and other health problems when exposed to air fresheners. (Ashford 1998).

      Adding to the mix of chemical soup in the air is a choice, not a necessity. It is a chemical assault. There is lots of information available showing that these toxins are causing some very serious problems to people’s general health affecting the liver, kidneys, respiratory system, brain cells, reproductive system, and the like. You can contribute to making these establishments a safe place for many and especially those with Environmental Illnesses, including the 17% of Gulf War Veterans who suffer immensely with chemical sensitivities, not including Vietnam Vets. Per Alison Johnson who has done extensive research on Gulf War Illness “I did not encounter any sick veterans who do not now have MCS.”

      Children from infancy to adolescence are in various stages of development and are more vulnerable to chemical insults than are adults. A recently initiated biomonitoring program in the USA has discovered measurable levels of chemicals in the human body and breast milk e.g. phthalates (www.cdc.gov/nceh). This raises concerns for the health of infants and their future health.

      The CDC (Center for Disease Control) recognizes MCS. Their Indoor Environmental Quality Policy from 2009 explicitly states: “Fragrance is not appropriate for a professional work environment, and the use of some products with fragrance may be detrimental to the health of workers with chemical sensitivities, allergies, asthma, and chronic headaches/migraines.” https://www.chemicalsensitivityfoundation.org/pdf/CDC-2009-Indoor-Environmental-Quality-internal-policy542.pdf

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      1. To all commenters: I am placing this here because it happened several times with this article, and has happened occasionally on other articles. Some commenters have subscribed to email alerts that let them know when new comments have been posted to an article. They then REPLY to that email rather than POSTING the comment on the website. When you do that, the reply goes directly to me, rather than being posted on the website. You need to go to the website to have your comment appear for others to read. (And you can unsubscribe to those comment notifications any time — the link is at the bottom of the email you receive.)
        Thanks
        Teresa

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  6. So society should ban use of all chemically produced fragrances in all public and private offices and gathering places? If you want to use perfume, deodorant, aftershave etc. you will have to do it in your home or designated spaces like rules on use of tobacco. I’m truly sorry anyone has this affliction, but I think it is flat wrong that taxpayers have to pay up a half million for some supposed abuse of this person’s rights. Do these people have any obligation to state their needs before they are hired? Seems like a legitimate requirement of working with the public would be to not be allergic to commonly worn fragrances.

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    1. EPA has proven that VOC from personal care products contribute more to air pollution that fossil fuel emissions. They used to say that indoor air was 7 times more polluted than outdoor air, but now they are stating it is 10 times more polluted. Personal care products emit D5 and D4 siloxanes and monoterpenes.. The VOC/VCP also convert to ozone or formaldehyde when there emissions combine with other chemicals and/or sunlight. Their research shows that it takes 9 hours for these chemicals to disipate, and they are known irritants to skin, eyes and lungs and also known carcinogens. Imagine how much lung cancer and other illnesses could be avoided if people were able to breathe clean air instead of chemicals all day.

      For the man with Chrohn’s Disease. It may be a chemical that is triggering your symptoms. Febreeze has a similar impact on me.

      So yes, society should ban the use of the chemically produced fragrances and demand that manufacturers reformulate their products to produce safer alternatives. If not, then we will have to wait for government to produce legislation to force the issue; just like they had to produce legislation to protect people with fragrance sensitivity from self-centered people who do not need to wear scented products to do their job..

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  7. Clint I couldn’t agree with you more… Again, why didn’t the city attorney already have the city put that in writing with employees? Isn’t that we pay to have an attorney?

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  8. I suspect HR people and Dept. Heads aren’t even allowed to ask people if they have any allergies or medical conditions that could affect them in the performance of their duties. “Do you have any medical conditions that your fellow employees will have to adjust their behavior for to accommodate your needs?”; would seem like a fair interview question, but I bet it isn’t allowed except maybe in law enforcement and fire service. I don’t understand why the law says the tax payers are liable for a situation they essentially have no control over. It seems like we are almost teaching people to aspire to become victims and seek financial redress wherever they can get it. I’m sure our individual share of the 500K is pretty insignificant but I feel we are victimized in having to pay it, never the less. Since everyone is out for a litigated fast buck, maybe we should file a tax payer class action against the city on this one? I could use an extra $100 or so.

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  9. After doing the math. I see our take would be more like $12 each if we won our suit unless we went for major punitive damages.

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  10. It certainly leaves the barn door open. WE should have some sort of a disclaimer stated we work with the public and that includes any and all of their smells….

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  11. Let’s clarify for a moment. This person as a new hire most likely have disclosed this condition prior and stated accommodations needed. Most likely this person became ill over time and had to adjust her lifestyle and work space to be toxicant free in order for her to not have adverse reactions. That being said, the employer would have had to make reasonable accommodations per the Dept of Labor and could have done so through the Dept of Labor’s Job Accommodations Network advice. Due Diligence on their part would have avoided suit. But most employers including Cities, as this has been precedence before, (Detroit) do not even try or feel they cannot control what personal care and laundry products others use. Your right to douse yourself in toxicant based chemicals does not trump ones right to breathe clean unadulterated ambient air. That’s why this practice is common in hospitals and health facilities because of the adverse effect of these chemicals on certain patient populations, especially pediatric asthmatics. So in essence yes, use that crap in the confines of your own home but it is inappropriate for the work force as explained by the CDC in their own internal policies for a fragrance free workforce.

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  12. “This person as a new hire most likely have disclosed this condition prior and stated accommodations needed.” “Most likely” doesn’t clarify anything about this situation. My point is that the employer should at least have the opportunity to weed out a possible new hire based on the knowledge of this condition so the tax payers don’t inadvertently become innocent victims of a law suit. I would agree that if the person disclosed the condition and the employer agreed to accommodate, but didn’t, then the person should be compensated. In the situation we are talking about, the city settled out of court and the employee got about 225K and the attorney got 285K. Looks to me like the employee was indeed a victim, but not so much at the hands of the city.

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  13. HOw do you know she was a new hire? Also, why didn’t our HR dept or city lawyer have something in place stating they could not guarantee clean air? Many or most companies have a clause in their HR agreement written up by attorneys. Bottom line..we the people are paying for this and know no facts.

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  14. What about the public? Many places state they are fragrance free and there is nothing you can do about it. And I’m glad..I love a free society. My question is this..I would love more FACTS, or any facts, regarding this case. Is it hidden from us? If not maybe a reporter and enlighten us.

    PS Crohns disease is in the gene pool..

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  15. Lots of claims being made here that might or might not stand up to scrutiny. I seriously question that chemical fragrances are more harmful to the environment than fossil fuels. If you put a person in a closed room and pumped in carbon monoxide (remnant of fossil fuel combustion) that person is definitely going to die. Likewise put a person in a closed room and pump in vapors from two or three other people wearing perfume; that person is definitely not going to die (from that anyway). The person might have a rash or a head ache but they aren’t going to die from these vapors. Individual people can be and are allergic to almost an infinite variety of things but that doesn’t mean we can or should ban all those things for everyone else. Laws shouldn’t be based on alarmist hysteria, they should be based on established fact. We know second hand tobacco smoke is a potential killer; we can’t say the same about chemical fragrances.

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  16. Manufacturers of beauty and cleaning products don’t have to disclose the hundreds of potential chemicals that could be used to make their fragrance, because they are considered “trade secrets” by the FDA.

    Around 90% of the chemicals included in the label “fragrance” are synthesized from petroleum or coal tar. Toxic chemicals commonly found in products with “fragrance” on the ingredients list include acetone, phenol, toluene, benzyl acetate, limonene and formaldehyde.

    A 2008 analysis of 6 top selling laundry products and air fresheners found “nearly 100 volatile organic compounds were emitted from the products, and five of the six products emitted one or more carcinogenic hazardous air pollutants which the Environmental Protection Agency considers to have no safe exposure level.”

    A 2017 Australian study found synthetic fragrances trigger respiratory problems such as coughing and shortness of breath in 1 out of 5 people and migraines in 1 out of 10.

    Another 10 percent experience rashes or other skin problems when exposed, and 8 percent said they’ve missed work or lost a job due to fragrance-related illness in the workplace.

    A 2016 study found 1/3 of Americans report adverse health effects when exposed to artificial fragrances.
    Breathing problems such as hay fever and asthma, found in 15-20% of North Americans, are also exacerbated by synthetic fragrance.

    People with chemical sensitivity can have even more severe reactions, making it difficult for them to hold a job or even go out in public. What makes fragrance even more insidious than secondhand smoke is the difficulty in detecting it. If you’re sensitive to cigarettes, you can walk in the other direction when you see a cloud of smoke or someone holding a cigarette on the street.

    With fragrance, it’s hard to identify where it might be coming from until it’s too late. Some fragrance products are designed to be slow release, so people wearing them continue to emit a “bubble” of toxins for hours to come.

    It’s not just the person wearing perfume who gets exposed to cancer-causing toxins. Fragrance chemicals are volatile and get into the air quickly. When we breathe, fragrance from every scented item used by the people around us enters our lungs.

    This means one person’s choice to wear a fragranced product can cause health problems for a lot of unsuspecting people. Most at risk are those with asthma, chemical sensitivities, respiratory illnesses, chronic fatigue, and immunological illnesses.

    https://www.newsweek.com/impact-cleaning-products-lung-health-bad-20-day-cigarette-habit-study-810277
    https://www.lung.org/our-initiatives/healthy-air/indoor/indoor-air-pollutants/cleaning-supplies-household-chem.html
    http://www.digitaljournal.com/tech-and-science/science/essential-science-cleaning-chemicals-linked-to-lung-cancer/article/515250
    http://www.cancernews.com.au/cleaning-chemicals-and-the-cancer-risk/
    https://www.ewg.org/enviroblog/2014/08/expert-panel-confirms-fragrance-ingredient-can-cause-cancer
    https://www.cancerdefeated.com/the-scent-of-cancer-orthis-reeks-of-long-term-health-problems/
    https://www.dailymail.co.uk/femail/article-5424415/Scientists-evidence-perfume-making-people-ill.html
    https://www.lung.ca/lung-health/air-quality/indoor-air-quality/scents

    You may see them as less harmful than fossil fuels but least we forget many of what comes from fossil fuels are components of fragrance. If you take the over 3000 chemicals used in the formulation and look up their molecular formula, structure, and other identifiers you would find that they are causing more harm than you ever could have imagined. Besides the fact that chemicals are never looked at for their synergistic effects.

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  17. There is nothing we can do about undisclosed items in a formula of any product. ONe thing I know is true, we are all going to go. It’s how you live your life while you are here. Fear is everywhere. One person smokes all his life and never gets cancer while another smoked only a couple and does. We all try to live as well as we can based on our gene pool. All the while trying not to force others to behave a certain way because you have to. It’s free will.
    I don’t think people should be polluting our air but really.. at least it’s not cigarette smoke that was everywhere in the 1940s and 1950s. If I was so sick with pollutants the last place I would live is a city that is full of them. IF I hated loud noises, would I live in an apartment? It’s about choice..and everyone has one.

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