Wednesday, March 24, 2010

Second Circuit Overturns Jury Verdict in "Shy Bladder" Case

The United States Court of Appeals for the Second Circuit recently overturned a jury verdict for an employee who claimed that he was denied a reasonable accommodation for his “shy bladder” syndrome during a random government-mandated drug test. The employee, Joseph Kinneary, was a sludge boat captain employed by the City of New York’s Department of Environmental Protection - making him subject to drug and alcohol testing under federal Department of Transportation regulations. Kinneary was terminated by the City for failing to retain his captian's license - as a result of refusing to submit to a urine test.

Kinneary alleged that he suffered from paruresis, also known as “shy bladder” syndrome, which made it difficult for him to urinate on demand (as required for a drug test). Kinneary claimed that this condition constituted a disability, that the City failed to reasonably accommodate his disability, and that he was terminated unlawfully because of his disability. Kinneary prevailed at a jury trial, asserting that he had been terminated for refusing to provide a urine sample when required to do so. A jury awarded him $100,000 in back pay and $125,000 in non-economic damages.

On appeal, the United States Court of Appeals for the Second Circuit concluded that the City had, indeed, provided Kinneary with the accommodation he sought. The Court found that the City had permitted Kinneary to be evaluated by a physician and had provided instructions to the physician that were consistent with the applicable DOT regulations. The Court further found that the note Kinneary’s physician provided to the City did not constitute a basis for cancelling his test because it did not say that Kinneary had a medical condition that did, or with a high probability could have, precluded Kinneary from providing a sufficient amount of urine for the test. Instead, the note simply stated the name of the condition, noted that it was chronic and could be helped by an alpha blocker that Kinneary had been given, and indicated that Kinneary was not a substance abuser. As such, the note did not comply with relevant Department of Transportation and Coast Guard regulations. The Court therefore held that the evidence unequivocally demonstrated that the City gave Kinneary the accommodation he sought (the opportunity to have his drug test cancelled based upon a physician’s evaluation pursuant to relevant Department of Transportation regulations), but Kinneary failed to comply with the regulatory requirements that would have allowed him successfully to cancel his test and save his license. Because Kinneary failed to retain his captain’s license despite receiving the accommodation, he was not otherwise qualified to perform the essential functions of his job and could not make out a successful claim under the ADA.