New Anti-Perfume Rules in Detroit May Cause a Legal Stink

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Some Detroit workers will be forbidden from wearing scented products following a landmark court decision that sided with a woman who said her coworker's scents hindered her breathing, reported Tuesday.

Employees in three of the Motor City's government buildings will be subject to the ban which includes strong perfumes, colognes, creams and deodorants.

"If your deodorant isn't mild enough, you'll do well to do an unscented deodorant," said attorney John Holmquist, who has read the entire settlement between the city and the plaintiff.

Susan McBride is the employee who helped create the new policy. Working in Detroit's Planning Department, she repeatedly asked a fellow employee to stop wearing strong perfume and to get rid of a plug-in air freshener.

When she felt the city did not act quickly enough to stop it, she sued. They settled for $100,000.

"To have it be perfume, to have it be a plug-in scent, and to have the parties be unable to work it out really is kind of unprecedented," Holmquist said.

It's just a matter of time, Holmquist said, before other people start smelling a lawsuit in their offices, too. The case represents a first for employers, but likely not a last.

"Certainly when it comes to fragrances and odors, I think most employers should say, 'Look. We're all adults. Why can't we use a rule of reason.' That would seem to be the best way," said Holmquist.

Now, employees will have to wear deodorants and soaps that are lightly scented or with no scent at all and nix the colognes and perfumes altogether, but who makes sense of which fragrances are fuming and which ones are fair?

"It's in the nose of the beholder, really," Holmquist said. "There's no enforcement mechanism, and there's no mechanism to really set a standard ... if you feel that your scent is okay - not withstanding what the supervisor feels."

A lawyer for the city of Detroit said these new rules will go into effect very soon for people who work in the Coleman A. Young Municipal Center, the Cadillac Square building or the National City building.

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