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Lawsuits & Litigation

City of Edmonds Shells Out $515K to Settle Suit Over Fragrances in the Workplace

— March 7, 2020

The city of Edmonds recently settled a lawsuit with a former police department clerk who claimed the city refused to accommodate her sensitivity to fragrances in the office.

The city of Edmonds recently had to shell out $515,000 to a woman who filed a lawsuit arguing the police department, where she worked as a clerk, failed to “make appropriate accommodations for her sensitivity to strong scents in the office.” The suit took three years to resolve until the city finally agreed in January to settle.

Police car on street; image by Matt Popovich, via
Police car on street; image by Matt Popovich, via

The suit was filed by Anne Johnson. According to her, throughout the litigation process, the city was nothing but dismissive of her allegations. Attorneys for the city regularly argued she could “never specify what scents triggered her sensitivity, and she had done little in the way of formal testing to find out — other than allergy tests taken 40 years ago showing she reacted to formaldehyde and dust mites.” Additionally, she “couldn’t identify any chemicals that affected her beyond the hair products, lotions and other scented fragrances that people might use.” She said:

“There are so many. Not being a chemist, I don’t know all the names of everything. I just know when I have the reaction.”

The city pushed back against her allegations and said it “took numerous affirmative and reasonable steps to make accommodations, including giving Johnson a fan and an air filter, cleaning and reworking the central HVAC, allowing her to take unscheduled breaks, work shorter shifts, and talk to employees who were the target of her complaints.” For example, on one occasion she complained about a sergeant’s cologne and another time she complained about the smell of a coworker’s deodorant. Additionally, there was one employee in particular that allegedly triggered a reaction from Johnson on a regular basis.

Despite the city’s abovementioned methods of accommodating her, Johnson claimed throughout the court proceedings that it “ignored her requests for a fragrance-free zone, and ultimately, the other accommodations didn’t do enough to relieve her symptoms.” As a result of having to be around so many smells all the time, she suffered “headaches, a stuffy nose, occasional wheezing, chest tightness, dizziness and had to go home often due to illness,” according to a doctor’s note that was included in the court documents.

In the end, she felt the only choice she had left was to resign in October 2017 to protect her health. In an email sent to her co-workers about her departure, she said she was leaving “because of her ongoing issues with scents in the workplace.” The letter stated, “My health has been compromised and I need to take care of myself.”

When asked about the allegations and Johnson’s requests, Jessica Neill Hoyson, the Edmonds human resources director said the city has yet to implement any fragrance-free policies.


Strong scents in the office cost Edmonds $515K in lawsuit

City settles lawsuit with former police clerk who requested a fragrance-free workplace

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