Thursday, January 4, 2018

A real stinker of an ADA lawsuit

Amber Bridges, the former Lead Staff in the City of Indianapolis Magistrate Court, claims that her efforts to ease employees’ complaints about a co-worker's body odor got her fired.

When employees and staff members began to complain about the co-worker’s “chronic body odor,” Bridges installed air fresheners throughout the office.

Months later, however, the malodorous employee complained to her boss that the air fresheners created a hostile work environment. As a result, the City fired Bridges.

In her lawsuit (c/o USA Today), she claims that the termination violates the ADA’s protections of individuals who associate with an individual with a disability, namely the employee with the chronic body odor.

This case raises an interesting legal question—can one raise an associational disability claim when the person with whom you claim the association accuses you of creating a hostile work environment based on the alleged disability. Or, to put in another way, must the association be reciprocal? I would argue that the association requires a closeness (or at least a lack of hostility) to support the ADA claim, and a lack of reciprocity would defeat this claim. 

However, this employee could have avoided all of these issues (and likely kept her job), if she had just handled the situation differently. Indeed, you can understand why the offending employee got mad following the (imho) highly passive aggressive air-freshener hanging.

How should one handle this uncomfortable issue? Instead of walking around the office hanging up air fresheners, why not try a B.O. intervention. Discreetly talk to the offending employee and suggest that she pay some attention to her grooming before each work day. That you all have to share the work-space and its air, and everyone should try to respect each other by paying attention to some basic grooming an hygiene. Or, if you are not comfortable having that conversation yourself, involve someone who is closer to the employee, or involve HR.

Any of which would have avoided this stinker of a lawsuit.