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Shy Bladder Syndrome May Constitute a Disability

    Client Alerts
  • July 31, 2009

Earlier this month a federal district court in Tennessee held that a school bus driver who was demoted after his “shy bladder syndrome” left him unable to comply with his employer’s drug testing procedures may proceed with his claims under the Americans with Disabilities Act (“ADA”). 

In Melman v. Metropolitan Government of Nashville, the plaintiff was required to submit to random drug tests in compliance with Department of Transportation (“DOT”) regulations.  During two random tests, the plaintiff claimed that he could not provide a urine sample because of a “shy bladder.”  The DOT’s Medical Review Office (“MRO”) determined that the plaintiff lacked a physiological condition under the DOT regulations to account for his inability to submit a urine sample and classified this inability as a “refusal to test,” which is automatically classified as a positive result.  Two days later, a urologist diagnosed the plaintiff with paruresis (shy bladder syndrome) and offered to perform the urine sample by catheterization.  The employer declined that offer and adopted the MRO’s determination.  The employer then placed the plaintiff on unpaid leave, required him to attend a drug rehabilitation program at his own expense, and demoted him to a position as a bus monitor.

The plaintiff sued his employer asserting a disability claim under the ADA.  Specifically, the plaintiff claimed that his shy bladder syndrome substantially limited his major life function of eliminating bodily waste.  The court denied the employer’s motion to dismiss and reasoned that the plaintiff’s argument was sufficient to state a claim under the ADA. 

Employers with drug testing programs should note that employees who are unable to comply with standard drug testing procedures may have a qualifying disability under the ADA.  Given the relaxed standards under the ADA Amendments Act, employers should actively engage in the interactive process with an employee to find alternatives for the employee to comply with standard company programs and procedures.