Lowe’s Not Liable for Terminating Urinating Employee

Jennifer Melendez and Edgar M. Rivera, Esq.

Former Lowe’s employee, William Powell, sued Lowe’s Home Centers LLC, alleging that Lowe’s violated the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) by refusing to provide him an accommodation for his urinary incontinence.  Lowe’s terminated Powell’s employment after another employee caught him urinating near the store’s entrance. The ADA prohibits employers from terminating a qualified employee because of a disability, as well as refusing to make a reasonable accommodation to a known disability if the accommodation would not impose an undue hardship on the operation of the employer’s business.

Powell began working at Lowe’s on February 6, 2008 as a stocker. The record reflected that in fall 2010, Powell underwent prostate surgery, was taking medication for urinary incontinence, and had urinated in a colorant bottle in the paint department during his shift—for which Lowe’s placed him on probation for six months. The record also showed that in March 2010, Powell reported to Lowe’s that his doctor changed his medication and that he was “cured” of his incontinence, he never provided Lowe’s with a doctor’s note indicating that he needed extra bathroom breaks because of incontinence, and, notably, there was no evidence that Powell suffered from incontinence between the the time he urinated into the colorant bottle and when he was caught urinating near the store’s entrance.

On July 1, 2012, Powell told his Lowe’s Freight Flow Department Manager that he had been experiencing back pain, who suggested to Powell alternative techniques to eliminate unnecessary strain on his body. The manager also checked with Human Resources to see if Powell had any work restrictions, which he did not. Regardless, Powell received an ADA Accommodation Request Form to complete. The form required medical information, doctors’ diagnosis and a note of action. He completed the ADA form, and Lowe’s changed his position as a stocker to a cashier to accommodate his back pain. He did not mention anywhere that he had problems with urinary incontinence.

A few months later another Lowe’s employee witnessed Powell urinating outside the public entrance near the shopping carts.  Because his actions created unsanitary conditions for Lowe’s customers and employees, in violation of its Code of Business Conduct and Ethics and he was already working under a Final Notice (from a prior incident), Lowe’s terminated his employment.

U.S. District Judge Kevin Sharp ruled that Powell’s claim that Lowe’s did not accommodate his incontinence failed because Powell did not provide medical documentation to Lowe’s stating he had an incontinence disability, nor did he tell Human Resources. The Court stated:

While plaintiff claims that the “restrooms at Lowe’s were in the back, about 300 feet away from the cashier stations at the front of the store,[“] he admits that “he did not think to formally request extra breaks due to the now long distance to the restroom.” Plaintiff also admits he never provided defendant with any doctor’s notes about his need for bathroom breaks. Defendant cannot be held liable for failing to engage in an interactive process when it did not know that there was a need for that dialogue.

The court also noted that Lowe’s did not terminate Powell after he requested an accommodation for his back-pain disability, but rather accommodated him by changing his position from stocker to cashier, and did not terminate him after he urinated in the colorant bottle.

Many employees are embarrassed at the thought of revealing personal medical issues to their employers. However, to avoid situations like Powell’s, employees should notify their employer’s of any disabilities so that their employer can attempt to make accommodations. The ADA protects workers against disability discrimination if their employer refuses to provide accommodations, but the employer must first be aware of the disability.

If you believe your employer has discriminated against you, please contact The Harman Firm, LLP.