County of Fresno v. Fair Employment and Housing Commission
Two county employees with respiratory disorders sued the county for discriminating against them in violation of state law by forcing them to work in inadequately ventilated rooms filled with cigarette smoke. Both of the employees had asthma and one also suffered from sarcoidosis of the lungs. The appeals court found that the employees were physically handicapped under state law because of their respiratory disorders, which severely limited their ability to breathe when exposed to tobacco smoke. The court also agreed that the county failed to provide reasonable accommodation for the employees’ handicap, which constituted discrimination under state law. The court noted that the environment in the office “was like a smoke-filled bar in which everyone ‘gagged together.’” Although the county had tried numerous measures such as using air filtration machines, opening the windows, and placing the employees and smokers at separate ends of the room, none of these methods was successful until a county-wide ordinance prohibiting smoking took effect.