Lawsuit against Indianapolis stems from worker's 'chronic body odor'
Chronic body odor is the focus of a lawsuit filed against the city of Indianapolis.
Amber Bridges, a former lead staff in the magistrate court, says her efforts to remedy complaints about an individual with chronic body odor got her fired.
In November 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 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."
That prompted other staff, clerks and employees of the magistrate court to install air fresheners in their work area, according to the complaint.
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 toward the worker, and Bridges was terminated.
Bridges, who had worked there since 2010, claims her firing 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.
The ADA prohibits discrimination based on relationship or association with a disabled person.
The EEOC's website states the law exists in order to protect individuals from actions based on unfounded assumptions that their relationship to a person with a disability would affect their job performance.
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."
"That is fairly common set of facts in civil rights lawsuits," Betz said.
Betz said that people may have body odor for various reasons, including disability.
If body odor results from a disability, employers should consider whether reasonable accommodation is appropriate, according to the Job Accommodation Network, a service of the U.S. Labor Department.
Accommodations 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.
Call IndyStar reporter Fatima Hussein at (317) 444-6209. Follow her on Twitter: @fatimathefatima.