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Employee Pushes Hostile Environment Too Far

Elda Alanis worked for Metra for approximately ten years. At some point during her employment, she began to have reactions to smells in the workplace. She had difficulty breathing and speaking. She was diagnosed as having asthma and fibromyalgia. Once Ms. Alanis was diagnosed, she requested various accommodations including a scent-free workplace.

Metra tried to comply with that accommodation. It directed her co-workers not to wear perfumes or colognes. Ms. Alanis alleges that several co-workers and her supervisor continued to wear perfume at the office. The supervisor was also accused of allowing employees to eat lunch in a conference room near Ms. Alanis even though she was also bothered by food smells. Ms. Alanis filed suit alleging, among other claims, that she was subjected to a hostile work environment in violation of the Americans with Disabilities Act.

The federal district court in Illinois determined that Ms. Alanis could proceed with her hostile environment claim under the ADA even though it had not yet been recognized under the ADA in the federal circuit of which they were a part. However, the court did not find the acts alleged by Ms. Alanis to be severe or pervasive enough to meet the standard for a hostile work environment. Although it may have been hostile for the supervisor to apply perfume in front of her on several occasions and to wear heavy perfume in response to her complaint, that conduct was not serious enough to rise to the level of hostile work environment. The only other evidence, which was the supervisor’s threat of discipline after Ms. Alanis’ objection, was also not enough.