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Aug 8, 2014

By Eric B. Meyer

When you gotta go, you gotta go.

In Sanders v. Judson Center, the plaintiff worked for a non-profit human service agency providing services to disabled individuals identified as “consumers.” The plaintiff, who suffered from a heart condition, was prescribed medication designed to get rid of body of fluids.

One night, while transporting two consumers in a van, the plaintiff was overcome with the need to urinate. So, she pulled over at a rest stop to use the bathroom.

The problem was that the two consumers required constant supervision. And, during the plaintiff’s bathroom break, one of the “consumers” wandered off from the van.

An impairment, but not a disability

Based on this incident the company fired the plaintiff. So, the plaintiff sued for disability discrimination, claiming that frequent urination caused by medication is her impairment.

Under the Americans With Disability Act, a “disability” is a physical or mental impairment that substantially limits one or more major life activities of such individual.

The Court agreed with the plaintiff that her frequent urination was an impairment. However, the court also concluded that the plaintiff did not have a disability because there was insufficient evidence to establish that her frequent urination substantially limited one or more of the major life activities plaintiff had identified; namely, walking, standing or thinking.

(For walking and standing, the plaintiff relied upon a return-to-work letter that did not address any limitation on plaintiff’s ability to walk or stand. For thinking, the plaintiff relied upon her own self-serving deposition, without any medical evidence).

How will this decision impact other ADA cases?

The facts and circumstances of this case suggest to me that it is an outlier. That is, with some additional physician testimony or medical records, the court would have found that the frequent urination substantially limited a major life activity.

As the EEOC has emphasized,

In enacting the ADAAA, Congress made it easier for an individual seeking protection under the ADA to establish that he or she has a disability within the meaning of the statute.”

Indeed, most employers that find themselves defending disability discrimination lawsuits by arguing the lack of a disability (as opposed to, let’s say, a failure to request an accommodation), won’t be as lucky as Judson Center was here.

This was originally published on Eric B. Meyer’s blog, The Employer Handbook.