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Woman used over-the-counter oil to treat chronic pain. It got her fired, lawsuit says

A North Carolina woman said she was fired from her longtime job for using an over-the-counter oil that contained a trace amount of the active component of marijuana, according to her lawsuit against the company in federal court in Charlotte.

Jean Smith said in the lawsuit that she had no idea the CBD oil she bought to relieve chronic pain from fibromyalgia contained a tiny amount of THC. LiveScience.com describes the chemical as “responsible for most of marijuana’s psychological effects.”

According to the lawsuit, Smith was fired after 14 years as a “loyal, reliable and respected employee” at auto auctioneer Manheim Statesville, after she provided a company-mandated urine sample when she hurt her hand on the job and visited a local urgent care center. Manheim is a subsidiary of Atlanta-based Cox Enterprises.

Trademarked Bluebird, the oil provided “significant pain relief and reduced anxiety and improved sleep ... without the side effects of the prescription medicines” she once took, Smith said in her lawsuit. The product is available over the counter and online in North Carolina, according to the lawsuit filed by Charlotte lawyer Luke Largess.

Smith said in her lawsuit that she was “very open with her supervisors about these health problems and the side-effects” of the medications she took. With her rheumatologist’s “knowledge and agreement,” she switched to CBD oil “as an alternative therapy for her pain and anxiety,” according to the lawsuit, originally filed in Iredell County Superior Court in May.

“The CBD oil was so effective that (Smith) was able to wean off her prescription medicines completely in early February 2019,” she said in her lawsuit.

After providing the urine sample, Smith “was shocked to learn later that she tested positive” for a trace amount of THC “and faced termination,” according to her lawsuit.

The threshold level for a positive THC test per U.S. Department of Transportation rules is substantially higher, Smith said in the lawsuit. “That is, (she) tested negative for THC for purposes of driving a commercial motor vehicle on the nation’s highways,” according to the lawsuit.

Her supervisors in Statesville told Smith they believed she “should keep her job and would urge the corporate office to understand the circumstances and not terminate her,” she said in her lawsuit. Her direct supervisor “was visibly upset” when he later told her “the corporate office had ordered him to terminate her,” according to the lawsuit.

In a statement to the Observer on Wednesday, Manheim officials said they were unable to offer details about the case “as it is pending litigation. What we can share is that safety is a core value at Manheim, and our drug testing practices and decisions reflect that. We take every step to ensure we operate a safe workplace for our team members and clients in full compliance with applicable law.”

Lawyers for Manheim and Cox had the case moved Monday to federal court in Charlotte and requested an extension to July 15 to formally reply to the lawsuit, court records show.

Smith wants a jury to give her job back with full pay and benefits, and order Manheim and another Cox subsidiary to pay damages jurors determine.

“I think the prevalence of CBD as a remedy for people creates an interesting issue for employers and employees,” Largess said in a brief statement to the Observer while away from the office on vacation Wednesday.



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Joe Marusak has been a reporter for The Charlotte Observer since 1989 covering the people, municipalities and major news events of the region, and was a news bureau editor for the paper. He currently reports on breaking news.
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