We’ve seen disability cases before where staffers’ allergic reactions to perfumes or colognes cause problems. But this company’s actions, if true, were particularly heinous for this nurse.
From 2001 to 2011, Hannah Mitter worked as a registered nurse at the DuPage County Jail in Illinois.
In 2008, Mitter began to suffer from extreme sensitivity and allergies to perfumes, colognes, chemicals, and other scented substances and objects. Exposure to those scents caused Mitte:
- extreme dizziness
- breathing difficulties, headaches
- increased blood pressure
- heart palpitations
- floaters and light in vision of sight
- facial swelling, and
- burning, itchy and watery eyes.
The symptoms greatly affected Mitter’s ability to perform her job duties, and, more than once, Mitter had to leave work due to an allergy flare-up.
The dentist did it
Later that year, jail employees began to hang and spray air fresheners throughout the jail. Mitter reported her allergies, symptoms and co-workers’ conduct to the director of nursing, and she told the sheriff’s office that she was having trouble performing her job duties and asked to be accommodated. The sheriff’s office didn’t respond.
Come 2010, Blaine Cusack, the jail’s dentist, started to use natural dental products with strong odors, to leave open bottles of bleach in his office and to spray the medical office with fragrance. On one occasion, Cusack hung gauze soaked in a fragrant solution from the dental office ventilators, and did not remove the gauze until the following day.
He called her ‘psycho’
Mitter continued to experience symptoms and illness from exposure to workplace scents, and continued to report her symptoms to the sheriff’s office and to request accommodations.
At one point, Mitter saw her doctor and provided a doctor’s note to the sheriff’s office regarding her allergies. The sheriff’s office never investigated the dental office fragrances and didn’t otherwise accommodate Mitter’s disability.
The sheriff’s office did ask Cusack to keep the dental office door closed, but after complying for a week, he resumed leaving the door open. Cusack also called Mitter “psycho” for having allergies, made animal noises at her in the hallway, and told her to see a psychiatrist.
In or around February 2011, Mitter reported her continued allergy flare-ups to the Corrections Bureau Health Care Administrator, who told her that she should look for another job due to her disability. Soon after, Mitter was fired for administering an incorrect medication to a patient.
Don’t dismiss seemingly bizarre requests
Mitter then went to the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission, which filed a disability lawsuit on her behalf.
And, just like previous cases involving staffers with disabling scent issues, the court held that Mitter could take her claim to court. That means the company is in for an expensive settlement or a lengthy lawsuit.
What are the lessons from this case? Take every disability accommodation request seriously — and ensure you engage in the interactive process with any worker requesting help or assistance.