The City of Detroit recently settled an Americans With Disabilities Act (ADA) lawsuit filed by an employee who unsuccessfully sought a reasonable accommodation because a coworker’s perfume made it difficult for her to breathe.

Now, one might conclude that a municipality may have more inclination to settle than fight since it’s using OPM (other people’s money), whereas a private employer might try to win in court.

However, with ADAAA (ADA Amendments Act) regulations coming soon (July), the woman’s request for a reasonable accommodation and the city’s rapid settlement both make sense.

The ADAAA defines disability as anything that limits a "major life activity," and breathing is certainly a major life activity. The employer might argue that in this case the perfume did not "substantially limit" the employee’s respiratory system, but the ADAAA comes to the plaintiff’s (employee’s) defense here too. The ADAAA shifts the burden in lawsuits onto employers, who now must prove that they offered a "reasonable accommodation" rather than challenge or disprove the disability.

In this light, it made perfect sense for the City of Detroit to settle (and then to ban all employees from wearing anything scented). Absent proof that the city had offered the employee a reasonable accommodation that the employee then refused, the defendant municipality had no legal defense.

Be prepared for your own reasonable accommodation requests. Get your copy of Personnel Concepts’ ADA Amendments Act Compliance Kit today.