Apparently quite a bit – it is directly implicated in an employee’s contention that she is disabled and requires an accommodation.

A federal court recently upheld the viability of an ADA claim filed by an employee who was allergic to one particular perfume worn by colleagues and who alleged that her employer did not attempt to accommodate her “reasonable” request “to minimize and limit Plaintiff's potential exposure to perfumes that trigger her severe asthma.”

Plaintiff was an employee since February 2003, and alleged that she suffered from asthma and “a severe chemical sensitivity to certain perfumes,” i.e., Japanese Cherry Blossom perfume, which interfered with the major life activity of breathing.  She alleged that in February 2008 she began developing breathing problems at work when she was near co-workers who used this perfume.

Her condition worsened and when she requested that the employer ask the employees to refrain from wearing this perfume at work, and when she suffered a severe allergic reaction in 2010 which required hospital treatment, co-workers began ridiculing her on Facebook, and intentionally continued to wear the perfume.

 She sued.

The employer attempted to accommodate plaintiff’s disability: (1) it requested employees to communicate only by phone or email with plaintiff; and (2) it requested that plaintiff communicate with co-workers in person only in open and well-ventilated open areas. The employer also proposed that plaintiff have access to an inhaler at work, be permitted to go outside as often as necessary, and that an email be sent to all employees asking them to stop wearing this particular perfume. However, plaintiff rejected these proposals as not being “sufficient protection.”

In the course of a procedural dispute, the court found that plaintiff had stated a “plausible” claim (not necessarily that she proved that claim) for failure on the part of the employer to accommodate her “reasonable” accommodation requests – for a policy preventing co-workers from wearing the offending perfume (not merely a request), especially given her co-workers' intentional wearing of it after she made the request that they stop; and to be able to work from home.

The court stated that “The purpose of the requested accommodation was not to completely eliminate any possibility that perfume and other fragrances will be worn into the … workplace by members of the public. … Instead, the purpose of the proposed recommendation was to minimize and limit Plaintiff's potential exposure to perfumes that trigger her severe asthma.”