JEFFERSON CITY — Missouri taxpayers have paid out at least $76,000 to a former social worker who claimed her supervisors ignored her allergic reactions to perfume, air fresheners and cleaning products.
A report released by Attorney General Eric Schmitt on Friday shows the latest of two payouts related to the case, which was brought by Gwendolyn Hill, a Department of Social Services employee for 26 years.
Court documents show that Hill developed allergy-like reactions to strong smelling products.
“By 2009, she regularly experienced burning in her eyes, nose, lips, throat and mouth, coughing, hoarseness, nausea and, eventually, a feeling that her tongue was swelling and her throat `closing,’ making her unable to breathe,” her attorney wrote.
Although department officials were aware of her problem, they did not take steps to help limit her exposure to the products, her 2017 lawsuit against the state notes.
It marks the latest payout by the state related to managers inadequately addressing workplace concerns raised by employees. Those cases have cost millions of dollars that could have gone to other state programs.
Schmitt's latest report shows the current projection of contested legal cases could cost taxpayers $483 million.
According to Hill's lawsuit, she felt forced to leave meetings and moved to alternative work locations to deal with her reactions. She sometimes left work altogether.
“On several occasions she had to seek emergency medical treatment,” the suit said.
Eventually, after an episode in May 2009, she was unable to return to work and the state terminated her employment.
In fighting the case, attorneys for the state argued that Hill did not ask for a 100% fragrance-free workplace between 2006 and the time she left the $28,000-per-year job.
Records show the case was set to go to trial next week. A settlement agreement was reached in July.