By Ryan Velez
It’s a rare situation where one’s body odor leads to legal action, but IndyStar reports that this is playing out in Indianapolis. After a woman tried to handle complaints about a co-worker’s body odor, she was fired for her efforts, and now is suing the company for its actions.
Amber Bridges, a former lead staff in the magistrate court was fired, and the situation began to play out in November of 2016. According to the Dec. 21 complaint filed in U.S. District Court for the Southern District of Indiana, employees and staff members began to complain about a coworker’s “chronic body odor.”
As the lead staff, Bridges notified her supervisor about the complaints and later bought and installed air fresheners throughout the work area to “improve the overall quality of air in the office.” The complaint says that other staff, clerks, and employees followed suit.
In May 2017, Bridges was notified that the worker with the body odor made complaints with the human resources department about the use of air fresheners. Bridges’ supervisor told her that she had created a hostile work environment for the worker, and Bridges was terminated. Having worked in the court since 2010, Bridges is claiming that her termination was unlawful, per her association with an individual with a disability.
She claims that the worker’s “obnoxious chronic body odor” is a disability protected under the Americans with Disabilities Act.
The U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission in some cases considers body odor a protected disability.
She had an “exemplary and unblemished employment record,” according to the complaint.
Bridges’ attorney, Robert Oakley of Dilley & Oakley P.C. in Carmel, declined to comment on the lawsuit.
The city’s attorney, Donald Morgan, declined to comment on the matter “out of respect for the judicial process.”
Kevin Betz, an employment attorney at Downtown law firm Betz and Blevins, said it is fairly common for individuals to sue an employer based on an association with a disability.
Betz said there “are cases in which a fellow coworker or even a family member or friend takes protective actions or even is simply associated with the individual who is disabled” and ” they receive an adverse action at the workplace.” This may sound bizarre, but body odor can stem from various issues, including disability. Should this be the case, employers may need to determine whether an accommodation is appropriate. This could include allowing flexible restroom breaks, providing a private office with an air-purification system or reassigning the person to a position that does not involve direct contact with the public.