Woman with ‘shy bladder’ claims hospital failed to accommodate her on drug test

A would-be administrator who failed a job-related drug test due to anxiety over giving a urine sample has sued Iowa Methodist Medical Center for failing to make a reasonable accommodation to her alleged disability.

Federal court papers filed in Des Moines this month accuse Iowa Methodist of violating Jennifer Conner’s rights after the hospital determined that Conner failed a company-ordered drug test last June because she did not complete it.

Conner, who graduated from Des Moines University in May 2012 with a master’s degree in Healthcare Administration, applied for a job as organ transplant financial coordinator with Iowa Methodist Transplant Center. She was offered the job on June 22 and told to report three days later for a required drug test.

Court papers say Conner was diagnosed during adolescence with paruresis, commonly referred to as “shy bladder” syndrome. It’s an anxiety condition that creates an inability to urinate in public restrooms or in close proximity to other people.

Documents say Conner previously had managed the condition by using single-stall restrooms or by running water to cover the sound of her urinating, court documents say. “If Conner cannot flush the toilet or run the water in the sink, she is generally unable to urinate in a public restroom,” according to the lawsuit.

Court papers say nurses at the assigned facility placed Conner in a room without running water, then knocked on the door to check on her after only 4 minutes. Two minutes later, nurses knocked again, according to the complaint, increasing Conner’s anxiety.

How to Stop Shy Bladder Syndrome
Shy bladder (also known as paruresis) affects 7% of the adult population in the United States.

For some people, shy bladder is an occasional annoyance, remedied by something as simple as turning on a faucet. For others, it is a persistent nightmare, making it impossible to urinate with only the threat of someone possibly nearby.

Unfortunately, this condition has been dismissed by urologists, who largely consider it a psychological issue, as well as by psychologists, who largely consider it a phobia with underlying causes (anxiety disorder).

To start, here are three rules you must follow to cure your shy bladder…

Tip #1: Realize That A Cure Exists

Unless you require a catheter to urinate, there is nothing physically preventing you from peeing in public. This is a problem that can be solved.

Your shy bladder might be based on anxiety - unnecessary fear or shame- or it may simply be a conditioned response from childhood that has not been “unlearned.”

Either way, this problem can be cured, either with cognitive behavioral therapy or a specialized program based solely on solving your shy bladder.

Tip #2: Make Small Changes Over Time

All legitimate programs to cure shy bladder are based on gradual exposure, meaning that progress is incremental, or over time.

Just like stepping carefully into a cold lake, where you gradually adjust to the temperature, all shy bladder cures work by repetitively becoming more and more comfortable with urinating in public.

How these programs gradually lead you along the way to the cure is how they differ. This is a big difference, and one program’s approach might work better for you than another.

So what do we recommend? We have two recommendations, as seen on the top right of our page.

The lawsuit, filed under a 2009 expansion to the federal Americans with Disabilities Act, says Conner eventually was asked to relinquish her restroom so someone else could use it. “While in the waiting room, Conner began to experience significant physical discomfort because she needed to urinate, but could not,” according to the lawsuit. “She also began to feel increasingly anxious and began to cry.”

Conner, who now lives in Indiana, has not responded to requests for comment.

A spokeswoman for UnityPoint, which includes Iowa Methodist, declined to comment on pending litigation. UnityPoint previously was called Iowa Health Systems.

Tom Foley, Conner’s attorney, said paruresis easily qualifies as a disability under the 2009 Americans with Disabilities Act Amendments Act, which was intended by Congress to place the legal focus more on steps taken by businesses than on the definition of a worker’s limitations.

Lawsuits brought under the original, more narrow law were difficult to argue because attorneys had to prove that their clients were legitimately disabled and that they were able to work with a little help, Foley said.

Before the amendments took effect, “It was getting to the point where attorneys were getting gun shy to bring these kinds of claims because they’d get thrown out of court,” Foley said. “You had this small little target that you were trying to hit, and many attorneys just wouldn’t bring these kinds of claims anymore because they were getting burned.”

Patrick Smith, a Des Moines attorney who publishes a blog on Iowa employment law, agreed that the amended disabilities law contains “a much broader definition” of disability than perhaps the common understanding of what it means to be disabled. A person is considered disabled under the law if he or she has a major problem that impacts a “major life activity.”

Smith said it’s likely that lawyers in the case won’t even argue over Conner’s disability but instead will focus on whether the hospital could reasonably be expected “to administer the test in some way that allows her to do what she needs to do to provide them a sample…. That sounds to me like that’ll be the major issue of the case.”


Written by
Jeff Eckhoff
Register & Tribune Co.


Provided by ArmMed Media