A Cold Spring woman says she was fired from her job at an assembly line after her superiors denied her a bathroom break and she resorted to urinating in a box.
The Star Tribune spoke with 51-year-old Lily Prince, who was dismissed from her assembly line job at an Electrolux Home Products plant in St. Cloud in August of 2012. Prince is now suing the company, claiming she was discriminated against.
“I knew I couldn’t hold it any longer,” Prince tells the paper about the day of the incident. “I would have wet my pants and I would never live it down.”
Prince says she had an urge to go, and asked the line supervisor to let her use the restroom. She says he did not give her permission, despite multiple requests, and after more than half an hour took matters into her own hands. Prince put a plastic bag in an empty box, went over to a garbage can near the assembly line, and urinated into it.
Five days later, she was fired for a “health and safety violation,” the paper reports.
You can see the full case here. The company tried to get the lawsuit dismissed, but was denied.
In the document, the company says it had a collectively-bargained bathroom policy that it complied with: Two 10-minute breaks allowed, one in the first four hours of the shift, the other during the last four hours. In 2001, Electrolux issued a memo clarifying its policy, leading the notice by saying the company needs to maximize all its resources to improve productivity and stay competitive. It continues:
"When an employee request[s] to use the restroom during work time the leadperson and/or the supervisor must be notified. The length of time and the frequency of requests to leave the work area will be monitored. A reasonable length of time is considered three to seven, (3-7) minutes and no more than twice a day during non-break work time."
Medical necessity to go more often, it also stated, requires supporting documentation. In the suit, Prince says she suffers from such a condition.
She also says there were instances of other employees soiling themselves due to not being given a break.
Minnesota state law requires employers to "provide restroom time ... within each four consecutive hours of work." No required length is specified; the statute simply says it must be an "adequate" amount of time.
Prince is working at Electrolux once again. The Star Tribune says she was out of work for 11 months until an arbitrator ruled her dismissal violated the collective bargaining agreement. A company spokesperson tells the paper it can not comment on pending litigation, but "the company’s labor contract provides multiple breaks throughout the day."
Wal-Mart found itself the target of a similar class-action lawsuit, completed in 2008. The New York Times reported a judge in Dakota County ruled the retailer violated state rest breaks more than 2 million times. Wal-Mart settled later that year, according to NBC News, and agreed to pay $54.25 million. The suit included violations concerning employees forced to work while off the clock, as well.
The company ultimately could have faced $2 billion in damages without the settlement.