Two years after the city enacted policy restricting its employees from wearing perfumes, colognes and other scented products to work, it's facing a lawsuit alleging it has refused to enforce the rule.
On Friday, Bureau of Transportation employee Julee Reynolds filed suit [PDF] in US District Court under the Americans with Disabilities Act. Reynolds alleges she's complained for years about the lotions and perfumes borne by her coworkers, but that superiors have refused to remedy the situation.
The city received notice of the suit today, and would not comment on pending litigation, according to PBOT spokesman Dylan Rivera.
Reynolds, a utility locator in PBOT's Maintenance Bureau, says she suffers from a condition known as Multiple Chemical Sensitivity, and that exposure to scented products has sent her to the hospital in recent years.
"The condition causes her to experience symptoms ranging from respiratory distress, dizziness, headaches and nausea to anaphylaxis," the suit says. "This condition has been recognized by Ms. Reynolds' physician as potentially 'life threatening' and, on at least one occasion, has resulted in Ms. Reynolds' hospitalization after a work-place exposure."
The suit seeks damages "estimated at $50,000."
Reynolds' alleged difficulties in the bureau began in 2010, when a coworker's lotion gave her system offense. She says she complained to a supervisor, and provided a doctor's note, but the situation continued. Most seriously, Reynolds allegedly landed in intensive care when a June 2011 "exposure" gave her a serious allergic reaction.
The suit details a litany of efforts Reynolds made to correct the problem— from meeting safety and human resources officials to securing a letter of support from Disabilities Rights Oregon.
"In response on April 4,2012 city representatives met with Ms. Reynolds and told her that she was suffering from nothing more than allergic symptoms and that, in the City's view, she did not have a disability," the suit says. Still, a supervisor offered to move Reynolds' desk to another area, the suit says. It didn't help.
"Ms. Reynolds has continued to report the chemical exposures, but all of her reports have fallen on deaf ears."
But city leaders have been willing to listen to similar claims in the past. In 2011, city council unanimously supported a policy change prohibiting scented products like perfumes in the workplace.
According to the policy revision: "Employees who have asthma and those who experience sensitivity to perfumes, colognes and other chemicals may suffer potentially serious health consequences due to exposure to airborne irritants."
While he almost certainly doesn't want to pay out $50,000 in city funds, Reynolds' claims may strike a chord with City Commissioner Nick Fish. During the 2011 fragrance hearing, he described how certain types of perfumes and make-up cause him to break out.
By the way: The condition Reynolds claims, Multiple Chemical Sensitivity, is highly controversial. According to the Occupational Safety and Health Administration, "chemical sensitivity is generally accepted as a reaction to chemicals but debate continues as to whether MCS is classifiable as an illness."
A call to Reynolds' attorney was not returned this afternoon.
Get the best of the Mercury each week in your inbox!