Fragrance Sensitivity and Disability

By James Hatch

Oct. 16, 2007

After her hire at a Morgan Stanley subsidiary in 2000, Beverly Robinson informed her supervisor about her allergy to perfumes and other fragrances and requested an accommodation. Morgan Stanley took steps, including changing Robinson’s seat, allowing her to use an alternative rental car service and sending a memo to employees asking they be considerate of co-workers sensitive to fragrances.

In filling out a medical certification form, Robinson’s doctor stated in 2003 that Robinson had an “extremely high sensitivity” to fragrances, but she didn’t have a “serious medical condition” as defined by the Family and Medical Leave Act. When filling out the same form in 2004, Robinson’s doctor indicated Robinson had a serious medical condition. Robinson was terminated the same day she submitted the form. Robinson sued Morgan Stanley under the Americans With Disabilities Act.

In granting summary judgment to Morgan Stanley, the U.S. District Court for the Northern District of Illinois in Chicago said Robinson did not raise a triable issue; was not disabled within the meaning of the ADA; and even if she were, given Morgan Stanley’s accommodations, she failed to show she was not reasonably accommodated.

In concluding Robinson was not disabled, the court stated her symptoms were temporary and she only considered herself disabled when exposed to perfumes or fragrances. The court found Robinson was never hospitalized for the condition. There was no record of her impairment; even Robinson’s doctor never classified her as having any limitation to a major life activity. Robinson v. Morgan Stanley Dean Witter, N.D. Ill., No. 05-C-04258 (8/31/07).

Impact:An employee with a condition that causes only temporary symptoms will likely not meet a threshold requirement of being disabled under the ADA.

Workforce Management, October 8, 2007, p. 10Subscribe Now!

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