Member Wins at State Supreme Court in Texas

Paul Green v. Dallas County Schools Slip Op. No. 16-0214 (Tex. May 12, 2017) http://law.justia.com/cases/texas/ supreme-court/2017/16-0214.html

Plaintiff Green worked as a bus monitor for Dallas County Schools (DCS) transporting children with special needs. Green informed his supervisor that he was taking a diuretic called Lasix for congestive heart failure. He switched to Coreg, another drug that he believed had similar urinary side effects.

On August 30, 2011, after the bus dropped off the only student who was on the bus at that time, Green asked the bus driver to stop at a gas station so that he could use the restroom. The bus driver instead drove into a residential area, and after repeatedly asking him to pull over, Green eventually urinated in his pants. The driver finally pulled over and Green finished urinating in an empty water bottle. Green then assisted another child at the next scheduled stop who was in a wheelchair, but Green did not touch the student at any time.

The driver reported the incident to his supervisor, who notified DCS’s area director. Green was terminated for “engaging in unprofessional conduct while on a DCS school bus” and “fail[ing] to protect the health and safety of the students boarding at [the] next scheduled stop from exposure to bodily fluids.” Green unsuccessfully appealed the termination and eventually filed this lawsuit.

At trial, Green testified that previous drivers accommodated his requests when he needed to stop and use the restroom and would inform DCS dispatch about the unscheduled stops. One of the drivers also testified that Green informed him that he took medication that sometimes caused an urgent need to urinate.

The jury found in favor of Green; however, the Court of Appeals reversed the trial court’s ruling, concluding that there was no evidence that DCS fired Green “because of” his disability. The court determined that even if the evidence established that “DCS terminated Green because he experienced incontinence while he was on the bus, there still must be some evidence that his disability caused the incontinence.”

The Texas Supreme Court determined that the Court of Appeals erred by concluding that the only disability the jury could have found was Green’s heart condition. Under the Texas Labor Code, a disability includes any “physical impairment that substantially limits at least one major life activity.” A major life activity includes activities such as work, but also includes the operation of a major bodily function–including functions of the bladder. Thus, the Supreme Court determined that Green’s urinary incontinence would qualify as a disability if it substantially limited his bladder function or his ability to perform work related functions. As a result, the high court reversed the Court of Appeals’ judgment and remanded the case to that court for consideration of issues it did not reach.

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Although I am not a lawyer, the significance of this Supreme court ruling is that it extends Americans with Disabilities Act protection to disabled workers who are affected by the side effects of the medicine they take to treat or control their disability and in a grievance hearing or similar situation I would argue that this ruling protects disabled workers from discrimination because of those side effects as well as protecting him against discrimination because of the disability.

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