Middle District Court of Tennessee
No. 3:08-cv-1205, 2009 WL 2027120
July 9, 2009 Keywords:
ADA, ADA – general, ADA Amendments Act (ADAAA), employment, summary judgement
Facts of the Case
Mr. Melman began working as a bus driver in 2002 at the Department of Transit (DOT) under the Metropolitan Government of Nashville and Davidson County. In fulfillment with DOT regulations, Melman was required to submit to random drug screens. Melman asserts that he suffers from paruresis, or “shy bladder syndrome,” which obstructs his ability to give urine samples, and experiences similar problems in public restrooms.
In April 2005, Mr. Melman experienced difficulty providing a urine sample to DOT, and the urine collector wrote “shy bladder” on the test form. On February 25, 2008, Mr. Melman again was required to submit to a random drug screen but was unable to provide the sample in the time given by DOT regulations. He was referred to the urologist Dr. Mitchell Wiatrak.
On March 4, 2008, the Medical Review Officer (MRO), a DOT employee responsible for reviewing drug screenings, classified Melman’s inability to provide a sample as “refusal to test.” Because there is no physiological condition to account for Melman’s problem, “refusal to test” is treated as testing positive for drugs. The MRO did this without conducting a personal examination, and did not review prior screenings that concluded Melman had “shy bladder” syndrome.
On March 6, 2008, Dr. Wiatrak concluded that Melman had shy bladder syndrome, which prohibited Melman from providing a sufficient amount of urine, and recommended catheterizing Melman for future drug screenings.
On April 18, 2008, the MRO’s decision was adopted by the DOT and Melman was placed on administrative leave without pay. The DOT also required Melman to both attend and pay for a drug treatment program. On many occasions Melman offered to submit to drug screens by “any alternative means,” but was refused by the Metropolitan Government. Melman was removed from the bus driver position and assigned to the bus monitor position, which is less prestigious with no opportunity to earn overtime pay.
Later, Dr. Faber, another urologist, could only secure a urine sample by catheter. This sample tested negative for drugs. Melman’s personal physician, Dr. Heusinkveld, was able to obtain a traditional urine sample “only after many hours and attempts.”
Issues of the Case
- Whether the plaintiff can assert facts in support of his claims that his shy bladder syndrome is a disability under the ADA or Rehabilitation Act.
- Whether he can perform the essential job requirements with reasonable accommodation.
- Whether the DOT discriminated against the Melman by failing to provide a reasonable accommodation due to his disability.
Arguments & Analysis
To make out a prima facie claim of employment discrimination on the basis of disability, the Court must decide whether (1) Melman is an individual with a disability, (2) he is qualified to perform a job’s requirements, with or without reasonable accommodation, and (3) he was discriminated against solely because of his disability.
1. Federal Discrimination Claims
Melman argues: 1) he has an impairment that is listed in the ADA; 2) his impairment (shy bladder) effects the major life function of eliminating body waste; 3) he is substantially limited in this major life activity; and 4) he is a qualified to serve as a bus driver and able to perform the essential function of providing a sufficient sample for random drug screens with reasonable accommodation.
The DOT argues that Melman does not have a disability and that he is not qualified for the bus driver position, even with a reasonable accommodation because he cannot fulfill DOT regulation on random drug screenings. To support this position, the DOT claims that Melman did not have a physiological condition that stops him from giving an adequate urine sample. The DOT reasons that this is a refusal, which should result in a positive drug screen result. Furthermore, the DOT asserts that the alternative testing accommodations Melman requests for his condition are not permitted by the DOT regulations, and so are not “reasonable.”
Accepting everything that Melman asserted as true, the Court concludes that Melman can prove facts under his federal disability discrimination claims. Melman’s ADA and Rehabilitation Act claims are permitted to go forward.
2. State Discrimination Claims
Plaintiff Melman also claimed that there was a violation of the THRA or THA because the DOT failed to provide a reasonable accommodation. The Tennessee Acts do not entitle qualified individuals with disabilities to reasonable accommodations. Instead, the THA prohibits “discrimination in the hiring, firing, and other terms and conditions of employment…solely based on… [a disability] unless such handicap to some degree prevents the applicant from performing the duties required by the employment…” Because Melman did not assert a claim under the “terms and conditions of employment” such as by his demotion to bus monitor, the state reasonable accommodation claim is dismissed before trial begins.
The Court ruled that Melman has the ability to prove his federal claims for failure to accommodate under the ADA and Rehabilitation Act, so those claims may go to trial. Nevertheless, Melman’s claim that the DOT violated the Tennessee Human Rights Act (THRA) or the Tennessee Handicap Act (THA) by failing to provide a reasonable accommodation, cannot go to trial because those Acts do not require employers to provide reasonable accommodations.
Policy & Practice
Melman may have been successful with his state law claim by asserting a violation of the “terms and conditions of employment,” such as a demotion on the basis of disability.
This case has the possibility of broadening the definition of disability under the ADA and the Rehabilitation Act to include shy bladder syndrome, or other disabilities that have a psychological or social origin.
Additionally, this could require the DOT to accommodate people with bladder problems under drug testing requirements. Examples of this are catheterization, or alternative drug testing like hair follicle or blood testing.
Disclaimer These materials do not constitute legal advice and should not be relied upon in any individual case. Please consult an attorney licensed in your state for legal advice and/or representation.
These materials were prepared by the legal research staff of the Burton Blatt Institute (BBI) at Syracuse University in partnership with the Southeast ADA Center to highlight legal and policy developments relevant to civil rights protections and the impact of court decisions in the Southeast Region under the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA). These materials are based on federal disability rights laws and court decisions in effect at the time of publication. Federal and state disability rights law can change at any time. In addition, state and local laws and regulations may provide different or additional protections. Materials are intended solely as informal guidance, and are neither a determination of your legal rights nor responsibilities under the ADA or other federal, state, and local laws, nor binding on any agency with enforcement responsibility under the ADA. The accuracy of any information contained herein is not warranted. Any links to external websites are provided as a courtesy and are not intended to nor do they constitute an endorsement of the linked materials.