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A shy bladder can be a job liability

By Samantha Murphy
Court TV

(Court TV) -- The inability to urinate on demand can cost someone a job.

After consuming gallons of water to foster a drug test, Captain Joseph Kinneary's 29 years of service in the Merchant Marines ended when he couldn't produce a urine sample under pressure.

The 51-year-old Long Islander, who has been out of work since March 4, 2002, filed two lawsuits Thursday against the State of New York and the U.S. Coast Guard claiming discrimination against his uncontrollable social anxiety disorder called paruresis, also known as Shy Bladder Syndrome.

Although Kinneary has been battling the drug urination test since it was instated 10 years ago, he finally failed and was suspended for 80 days. On October 16, 2003, an administrative judge for the Coast Guard ruled against Kinneary and moved him from the position of captain to an administrative desk job.

According to Kinneary's attorney, Ambrose Wotorson, the judge ruled that Kinneary "intentionally did not pee on demand. [The judge] didn't recognize that this is a real medical condition."

"I then got a letter saying I needed to renew my Coast Guard license," Kinneary said. "But since I didn't pass the urine test, I couldn't get it renewed. It seemed like a set up to me. I was fired two days later."

Recent studies show that about seven percent of the public -- about 17 million people ? suffer from the inability to urinate in public or under pressure, according to the International Paruresis Association.

"Kinneary is not at all alone," said Dr. Stephan Soifer, the association's executive director and an associate professor of social work at the University of Maryland. "Many people have suffered, lost jobs or been demoted because of this disorder. Not to mention the millions of people who have been battling with it their whole life."

Soifer, who works with and lobbies for those suffering with Shy Bladder, said cases like this have been surfacing for years.

"I receive daily calls from people who have lost their jobs or have been discriminated against because of this. It's so sad to see this happening to good people, all people who have come up clean in drug testing," Soifer said, referring to people tested with alternative methods, such as blood testing.

Most recently, he received a phone call from a truck driver who confessed that he almost committed suicide when he was fired for not producing a urine sample.

Earlier this year, a judge in Massachusetts recently granted relief to a prisoner with Shy Bladder Syndrome who spent 30 days in solitary confinement for failing to produce a urine sample in the time allotted.

In New Mexico, a jury awarded a doctor a quarter of a million dollars for egregious treatment for a paruresis sufferer during a urination drug test in March.

And another lawsuit was filed in May against the manufacturing company Caterpillar Inc., by Tom Smith of Meansville, Georgia, who was fired when he did not complete a urine sample test.

"Smith drank 40 ounces of water in order to go to the bathroom for the drug test this past fall," Smith's lawyer, Maureen Murphy, said. "After Smith couldn't urinate within a three hour period, he was informed the test was over and to return to work. He was later fired."

The Coast Guard and other government organizations follow federal regulations allotting a three-hour urination period for drug testing. "However, privately owned companies, such as Caterpillar Inc., do not have to abide by those regulations," Soifer said. "That's why I don't understand how some companies can't be more flexible and use alternative solutions for those with these disabilities."

"Since you are dealing with a government agency there is a whole different undertaking than privately owned companies," said attorney Julie Gaughran, who specializes in employment discrimination cases.

"The Americans with Disabilities Act says that employers must provide reasonable accommodations to employees that have disorders," Gaughran said. "If a company doesn't provide or accept these accommodations, such as alternative testing, they are discriminating."

According to their lawyers, Kinneary and Smith both offered their employers alternative methods for a drug test, such as hair sampling, blood tests, a sweat patch or even a saliva test to prove they were clean. But their employers failed to accept alternative testing methods despite the disorder.

"Caterpillar and all of these companies could easily accommodate a request for an alternate urine sample," Murphy said.

Caterpillar did not return calls for comment.

The International Paruresis Association is pushing the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services and the Department of Transportation to revise their regulations and allow for alternative drug testing for people with paruresis. They recently convinced Atlanta-based Georgia-Pacific Corporation, one of the world's leading manufacturers and marketers of paper, packing and building products, to change their drug policy testing to avoid employee urination issues.

"We began using saliva testing in January of 2002," Robin Keegan, spokesmen from Georgia Pacific, said. "It has been a phased-in process, which is now about 80 percent complete. We switched because it is less invasive and better for our employees and there is also a cross-savings for the company."

Kinneary, who has a doctorate in biology, has been supporting his wife and two kids with income as an adjunct professor at a local college. He wants his job back and to "just be left alone."

"I've been held like an animal in a cage for a urine sample; these are human civil rights issues," Kinneary said. "Something must be done. This is not the way this country is supposed to work."

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