Must Hospital Accommodate Carpet-Allergic Employee?

A new federal ADA suit in Connecticut alleges that a hospital employee “began smelling strange odors emanating from the ventilation system in 2009.  The odors caused [her] to fall ill with symptoms that included swelling and redness in her eyes and nose, headaches, vertigo, nausea, a burning sensation in her lungs and throat, and difficulty breathing.”


What is this about?

The employee, an admission care management specialist, claims that she suffers from “chemical inhalant exposure,” and that when the hospital installed new carpeting in every section of the hospital she said that this “would prevent her from avoiding the odors that cause her respiratory problems.”

A certified industrial hygienist said that “latex in the carpet backing or adhesive and volatile organic compounds that remain in the carpeting from the manufacturing process likely contributed to [her] symptoms.”

She met with hospital officials “but they could not provide her with an alternate work location, according to the suit.”  Her symptoms became worse, she could not return to work, and the hospital refused to allow her to work from home.

In her suit she claims that the hospital failed to make reasonable accommodations for her alleged disability.  She also claims retaliation — she was fired after she filed charges with the EEOC and the state agency.

Takeaway:  We have only plaintiff’s side of the story at this point, and the article which discussed this suit is not particularly enlightening.  But I wonder if there was a reasonable accommodation that was not unduly burdensome to the hospital — which is the test under the ADA.   Was working from home a viable option for an employee in that job position?  We shall see.




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Richard Cohen

Richard B. Cohen is a partner in the New York City office of FisherBroyles, LLP, a national law firm. Richard Cohen has litigated and arbitrated complex corporate, commercial and employment disputes for more than 35 years, and is a trusted advisor to business owners and in-house counsel both in the United States and internationally. His clients have included Fortune 100 companies, domestic and foreign commercial and investment banks, Pacific-rim corporations and real estate development companies, as well as start-up businesses throughout the United States. Email Richard at [email protected]