Human Resources News & Insights

‘We didn’t know he was disabled: Do we have to accommodate him?’

Here’s more disappointing proof that employees (or rather, ex-employees) will sue you for just about anything these days. The more disturbing fact: Sometimes, seemingly ridiculous lawsuits are found to have merit.

Thankfully for this employer, however, this was not one of those lawsuits.

But it still forced the employer, Gregg Appliances Inc (a.k.a., hhgregg) to assemble its legal team and mount a defense.

Failed to take drug test

Christopher Lucas was about to be promoted to general manager at the electronics and home appliance retailer.

The only things standing in his way were a drug test and his paruresis (shy bladder syndrome).

hhgregg’s drug policy was very clear on a few key points:

  • It applied to all associates (including Lucas)
  • Any associate who refuses to submit to any type of testing when requested by the company will be discharged for insubordination
  • Promotion was contingent upon passing a drug test, and
  • After a drug test is scheduled, an associate has 24 hours to complete the screening.

Lucas knew he had trouble urinating in public restrooms and at work. He’d frequently go an entire work day without voiding his bladder. Still, he made no mention of this prior to showing up to take the drug test.

When Lucas arrived at the testing clinic, he entered an unoccupied restroom and shut the door. He was in the restroom for five minutes and failed to produce a urine sample. He then told the clinic’s technician he had a shy bladder.

The technician then gave him 16oz of water, and he attempted to urinate again an hour and a half later. Again, he failed to produce a sample.

The technician said he was allowed to wait a while longer and then try again, but Lucas refused and said he was leaving the clinic.

The technician then said that would be considered a refusal to take the test. Lucas left anyway.

Lucas then spoke to his direct supervisor, and explained that he was unable to produce a urine sample at the clinic. What he failed to mention to the supervisor, or anyone else at hhgregg for that matter, was that he’d had trouble urinating in public facilities in the past.

The next day, Lucas was fired.

Upon hearing of his termination, Lucas finally spoke up and informed hhgregg that he’d been dealing with shy bladder syndrome for years.

And here’s the kicker: The first time Lucas ever saw a doctor about his condition was the day after his termination (he said he didn’t think his symptoms were serious enough to consult a physician any earlier).

The doctor did, indeed, find that he suffered from shy bladder syndrome, but it was too late. His termination stood.

Claimed disability discrimination

Lucas then sued hhgregg, claiming his termination violated the ADA. He said the company illegally fired him as a result of his disability. He also claimed hhgregg should’ve accommodated his condition by allowing him to take the drug test by another means — i.e. allowing him to produce a hair or blood sample.

The company tried to get his case thrown out on summary judgment, arguing it never knew about his condition until after he was fired. Plus, because it never knew about his disability it was under no obligation to look for an accommodation.

The court swiftly agreed with hhgregg.

It said:

“[E]xisting case law makes clear that an employee cannot be considered to have been fired `on the basis of disability’ unless the individual decision-maker who fired the individual had knowledge of that disability.”

It then went on to say that because hhgregg had no knowledge of Lucas’ disability prior to making the decision to terminate his employment, there was no way the decision to terminate him could’ve been influenced by his disability.

The court also made it clear that when a disability is not obvious — as was the case with Lucas — the burden is on the employee to make the employer aware. The same is true of accommodations; the burden falls on employees to request them.

Lucas not only made no attempt to inform hhgregg of his disability prior to his termination, he hadn’t even seen a doctor about his condition until after he was fired.

Case closed.

Cite: Lucas v. Gregg Appliances Inc.

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