Transit Worker Claims He Must Choose Between Using The Bathroom, Keeping His Job
By: Bobby Cuza
While most people take it for granted that they can use the restroom at work when they need it, one subway worker says he's been forced to choose between using the bathroom and keeping his job. NY1's Bobby Cuza filed the following report.
For subway conductor James Mitchell, it all started on a downtown R train some nine years ago. He says he needed to use the bathroom, so he held the train at the City Hall station, and used the facilities in a dispatcher's office.
He said it took no more than four minutes, but he soon had two disciplinary claims filed against him – neither one for the brief stop.
"The Transit Authority cannot discipline an employee for using the bathroom, so what they do, they manufacture a rule violation," said Mitchell.
While those charges were dropped, it was not the end of his trouble. Mitchell was diagnosed with irritable bowl syndrome, and over the past nine years, he's stopped his train several times to use the bathroom.
That has led to more problems. Mitchell is currently reassigned to platform duty and says management is trying to fire him, using trumped-up charges that he filed medical forms that were not filled out properly.
"Every time he has anything related to this disability, which is a documented disability, supervision tries to get him fired, one way or another," said attorney John McHugh.
"It's as if they want to penalize you for being sick," added Mitchell.
Mitchell has sought treatment for his condition. In 2007, he underwent surgery to remove more than a foot of his intestines, and he says altogether he's been hospitalized seven times.
As for the passengers left waiting during Mitchell's bathroom breaks, he says they were told only there was a delay and the train would be moving shortly.
"I can understand that the passengers have to be where they want to go, but at the same time, I can't operate a train safely if I have a sudden urgency to use the men's room," he said.
Mitchell tried unsuccessfully to sue NYC Transit, and has filed several grievances. He's says the agency owes him about $12,000 in back pay, and he argues the delays he's caused are not significant.
"In the nine years or eight years this has been going on, he's stopped the train, I think, four times, for a total of less than 20 or 30 minutes – total," said his attorney. "And kids holding doors in rush hour hold trains up for longer than that."
NYC Transit said it could not comment on internal disciplinary matters. Mitchell's case is now going to arbitration.