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Urine Leads To Lawsuits

Urine and chromates have prompted a pair of lawsuits, one against Solano County, which settled last week, and another which awaits a hearing in federal court next month.

Robert Towner, a Solano County Transportation Department maintenance worker, filed the lawsuits. He had never heard of chromate before his life was turned upside down when a laboratory reported it had found the substance in Towner’s urine.

A few days after the long Thanksgiving weekend last year, Towner’s boss in the county transportation department told him he had to take a random drug test.

The test was nothing new to Towner. The urine test is a routine check the county requires of its vehicle operators, including Towner, to insure they aren’t driving while under the influence of marijuana or other illegal drugs.

While the urine check had been a routine part of Towner’s job, it became decidedly unroutine when the county told him they were going to fire him because chromate had been found in his urine sample.

“Chromate?” Towner asked.

Chromate was what a lab contracted by the county claimed they found in Towner’s urine sample which they labeled “adulterated.”

Chromate is a chemical compound labeled as a detoxifying agent by a handful of companies who peddle the product under names such as Urine Luck with promises that adding chromate to a urine sample will allow the sample to pass a lab’s scrutiny.

Towner denied he had tampered with his own urine. He told county officials the mysterious substance might have come from dietary supplements he was taking.

County officials rejected Towner’s explanation, saying they considered an adulterated test to be the same as a positive test.

It was not until March when Towner reluctantly signed off on a “last chance agreement” enabling him to keep his job, although he would have to serve a 30-day suspension without pay.

But Towner didn’t roll over entirely. On the same day he reached an agreement with the county, he filed a lawsuit against the county’s contracted lab company seeking at least $25,000 in compensation, saying their negligence led to his being defamed and suffering from emotional distress.

“His reputation has been destroyed and he is now viewed as a liar,” said Towner’s attorney, Mark Pollock of Napa. “He absolutely did not have a dirty urine test. We are hoping to clean up the test results.”

Pollock believes herbal or vitamin supplements, whose ingredients are unregulated by the government, could be the cause for the test results. But Pollock’s efforts to investigate his beliefs were thwarted by the lab and county officials refusal to provide him with a copy of the test results.

Pollock filed a separate lawsuit against Solano County earlier this month, but negotiations with the county counsel’s office led to the lawsuit being dismissed.

Towner’s lawsuit against the testing company and two other labs that reviewed his sample is moving forward, transferred to federal court earlier this month for a hearing in July because laws about drug testing for vehicle operators are governed by the federal Department of Transportation.

Towner is scheduled to return to work Monday, Pollock said.”

Posted by A. Shapiro
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