Originally created 05/21/04

Lawsuit claims Ga. worker fired because he couldn't urinate on demand

ATLANTA -- A man who says he was fired by Caterpillar Inc. because he wasn't able to urinate for a drug test sued the equipment giant Wednesday, alleging discrimination.

The plaintiff says he suffers from paruresis, more commonly known as shy bladder syndrome, and was physically unable to urinate into a specimen cup, despite having drunk 40 ounces of water and being given three hours to complete the task.

Tom Smith, a 55-year-old assembly line worker, was suspended by Caterpillar a day after the aborted test in November, and dismissed on Dec. 5.

"This is supposed to be a country where losing a job for a disorder like that shouldn't be a problem," said Smith, who worked at the company's Griffin plant more than three years. "It's just a matter of simple justice."

Smith contends Caterpillar violated the Americans with Disabilities Act and that companies should offer alternate drug testing methods such as hair or blood tests. He wants his job back and unspecified monetary damages.

Smith's lawsuit claims he ultimately was able to provide a urine sample during an exam by a doctor appointed by Caterpillar, but the company refused to test the sample because he failed to produce it within the allotted three-hour period.

Smith passed an independent hair drug test he paid for himself before he was fired, but Caterpillar required him to pass the urine test. Hair tests are generally considered to be more accurate than urine tests and detect drug use over a few months rather than a few weeks.

Peoria, Ill.-based Caterpillar says its drug tests are in place to protect employees' safety.

"We believe that our drug testing policy does not violate the Americans with Disabilities Act, and we intend to defend against the allegations," said spokeswoman Linda Fairbanks, who declined further comment.

Employers conduct about 45 million drug tests each year, and a vast majority use urine samples.

Paruresis is recognized by the American Psychiatric Association as a social phobia, but no government agency has classified it as a disability, said Steven Soifer, president of the International Paruresis Association.

As much as 7 percent of the general population has said in surveys they have trouble using the bathroom away from home, said Soifer, an associate professor of social work at the University of Maryland in Baltimore.


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