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Stink Over Perfume at Detroit Workplace

Sometimes scents can be overpowering. A Detroit woman sued the city after she claimed she couldn't work due to her colleague's perfume.

CBS News correspondent Bianca Solorzano reported on "The Early Show" that city employee Susan McBride complained she was "chemically sensitive" and a co-worker's perfume and room deodorizer made it difficult for her to breathe and do her job -- so much so that she suffered migraines, nausea and coughing.

Ann Curry Thompson, McBride's attorney, told CBS News, "You can't come into a workplace loaded in one of these so-called designer perfumes that broadcasts itself across the room."

McBride won a $100,000 settlement. Detroit city employees in the three buildings where McBride works are now being warned not to wear scented products, including colognes, aftershave, perfumes, and deodorants, or even use candles and air fresheners.

Thompson said, "When you have a stated policy in the workplace, it gives an employee something to point to."

Joelle Sharman, a labor and employment lawyer, said on "The Early Show" an employee would have to prove that a scent actually had a health effect on his or her person to make a case.

She said, "If I triggered a condition that caused substantially something to interfere with your ability to perform in the workplace, if I interfered with your ability to work or ability to breathe, then, yes, and you reported it to your employer, then the employer would have to respond."

"Early Show" co-anchor Harry Smith asked if an employer has the right to tell a person they can't use cologne or perfume.

Sharman responded, "A person doesn't necessarily have a right to wear perfume, but the person does have a right to be able to breathe in the workplace. So if an employee comes into work and says to his or her boss, 'I can't breathe, this perfume is triggering a condition that is affecting my ability to breathe in the workplace,' and reports to his or her boss, the boss has to reasonably accommodate that person."

Smith said as he read up on the case, it looks like the boss didn't respond to the complaints.

Sharman added, "The boss did not engage in the interactive process. Had he just communicated with the employee, explored the options, all of this may have been avoided."

However, an employee shouldn't just say another employee stinks, Sharman said.

"I don't think that would be the appropriate approach," she said. "I would go to a person's boss and say, 'The smell is affecting the way I'm breathing. It's causing an allergy or it's affecting my breathing. It's interfering with my ability to work. Can you accommodate me, please?'"