McGahan v. Kimball, et al.

An MCAD Hearing Officer ruled that an asthmatic woman who claimed that she was subjected to secondhand smoke at the offices of a law firm in Springfield, was entitled to damages resulting from unlawful discrimination and was constructively discharged from her job.  There had been occasions where McGahan suffered “tightness” in her breathing after coming to her workplace.  On one occasion, she had to leave early to see her physician, who provided her with a letter which said “I recommend that she temporarily refrain from entering the workplace until her medical condition stabilizes and until such time that she can be free from asthma and headaches while there.”  She went to see Attorney Kimball about returning to work and requested that she be not be subjected directly to tobacco smoke.  During that meeting, Kimball smoked a cigar and McGahan suffered tightness in her breathing.  After being told that it would be “impossible” for smoking to be confined to the attorneys’ offices, McGahan filed her complaint with the MCAD.  McGahan later spoke to Bennett, one of the other attorneys with the firm, who told her that he smoked in the presence of his own daughter, who has asthma, and later told McGahan that the Supreme Court would have to tell him he could not smoke in his own law firm.  The Hearing Officer noted that the Respondent “called no witnesses at the hearing and provided no evidence whatsoever to establish that the accommodation requested would cause any hardship” and that the Respondent “treated Complainant with utter contempt after she filed her complaint, ignoring her deteriorating health, smoking in her presence and driving her out of her job.”  The law firm was ordered to pay McGahan $50,000 to compensate her for emotional distress and $15,199.37 for lost wages, plus 12% interest from the time the complaint was filed.

No. 94-SEM-0009 (Massachusetts Commission Against Discrimination 1999).