Cass County Jail nurse with medical marijuana card fired after failing drug test – InForum

FARGO — A nurse at the Cass County Jail who was recently fired for failing a drug test alleges the firing was unjust, citing her possession of a medical marijuana card and that she never brought the controlled substance onto jail property.

Katie Rodacker-Bartch appealed the firing to the city after she was terminated on March 28 for failing a drug test conducted after coworkers complained about the strong odor of marijuana. The former jail employee claims she was discriminated against for her disability and that her private medical records had been shared, something she describes as “mortifying.”

Rodacker-Bartch has a medical marijuana card through the state of Minnesota and is prescribed cannabis and adderall to

manage mental health conditions

, she said.

Members of the Fargo Civil Service Commission voted 3-1 on Monday, April 3, to uphold the termination. The commission’s role in these situations is to ensure that disciplinary actions are not motivated by political or otherwise “improper” considerations, according to Commissioner Kurt Losee.

Fargo City Attorney Nancy Morris said Rodacker-Bartch was fired because a positive test for cannabis is a policy violation for both the city of Fargo and Cass County Jail.

“She was tested for the use of a controlled substance due to reasonable suspicion and that test was positive,” Morris said. “In other words, she was under the influence of a controlled substance while at work. Whether or not she was impaired is irrelevant under the circumstances.”

Morris added that measures for testing for cannabis impairment are imperfect.

Supervisor Tanner Coppin, a correctional health nursing manger with Fargo Cass Public Health, was first made aware of the situation on Feb. 15 after Cass County deputies noticed a “strong odor” of cannabis around Rodacker-Bartch’s locker and a smell that followed her into the building.

Rodacker-Bartch was drug tested on Feb. 16 and placed on unpaid leave.

Desi Fleming, director of Fargo Cass Public Health, then received a “definitive decision” in an email from Cass County Sheriff Jesse Jahner on March 26 that Rodacker-Bartch would not be allowed to return to the jail for employment.

“The sheriff clarified that the use of marijuana and a positive test during work hours is a violation of policy, at which point (Rodacker-Bartch) was terminated,” Coppin said.

Rodacker-Bartch was fired by the city on March 28.

The job she was fired from is unique, Morris noted, because she was employed by the city of Fargo’s public health department but contracted out to the Cass County Jail.

“Both of these entities have drug free policies in place,” Fleming said. “Even if it was a medicinal use, they don’t allow that in correctional facilities,”

‘Very unfortunate situation’

In North Dakota, it is illegal to have cannabis on correctional facility grounds, Morris said. However, she noted, an independent investigation by the Cass County Jail could not prove that Rodacker-Bartch ever brought any onto the property.

Commissioner Michael Wenaas pointed out that there was no proof Rodacker-Bartch was impaired at work or evidence that she had cannabis on jail property.

“I did not violate said policies,” Rodacker-Bartch said. “I did not use or have marijuana on me while at the Cass County Jail.”

She alleged her employer violated policies in a way that was discriminatory against her disabilities and violated her rights as an employee and a human.

“These violations effectively released my medical information to multiple people and agencies that had no right to know about it,” Rodacker-Bartch said. “My medical information being represented and then weaponized against me, used to end my employment … it’s not only unjust, it’s mortifying.”

Rodacker-Bartch said she does not use the prescription at work and said her positive test result stemmed from a urine drug screen that will reveal a positive result long after consumption is stopped. The test also does not indicate current impairment, she added.

The odor likely came from her coat from at-home use and followed her into the office, she said. There were no reports of odor detected on her person or by the Medical Review Officer during the drug test, she noted.

“This is a very unfortunate situation,” Fleming said. “Any employee that has a prescribed controlled substance needs to go through our employee health program for that approval process.”

Rodacker-Bartch did not do that, Fleming said.

‘My worst nightmare come true’

Even with her prescription, Commissioner Paul Grindeland said he did not think that’s enough to overturn the positive drug test results.

“Unfortunately for Katie (Rodacker-Bartch), marijuana is federally not a legal drug and is going to be on that testing list,” Grindeland said.

While Commissioner Nancy Jordheim acknowledged that Rodacker-Bartch is in a “tough spot,” she doesn’t see it as a disability issue, as there was no previous disclosure to either employer.

“Given these circumstances, termination for cause was the justifiable action for this case,” Fleming said.

Citing company policy, Rodacker-Bartch said she never disclosed the medications with her employers because she never takes them at work and they don’t impact her job performance, as determined by a physician.

“If, after conferring with his/her physician, an employee has reason to believe that his/her ability to perform his/her job competently and safely may be adversely affected, the employee should consult with his/her immediate supervisor regarding possible accommodations,” city policy reads.

The city has reported the policy violation to the board of nursing, through which Rodacker-Bartch is licensed. The board is considering the situation, Fleming said, adding there is no current change to the nurse’s status at this time.

“I’m being fired for my mental health diagnoses,” Rodacker-Bartch said, adding she doesn’t understand why she is being penalized for taking her prescription during her off-hours.

“Mental health is a huge deal, and it affects everybody in some sort of way,” Rodacker-Bartch said. “I don’t feel like people should have to be afraid of losing their job for treating their mental health.”

Even her family doesn’t know that she has a prescription for medical marijuana, she said. It’s something she has kept to herself for fear of how others would judge her.

Fear is also why she didn’t disclose her prescription to her employers. She was afraid of being fired.

“It’s like my worst nightmare come true,” Rodacker-Bartch said, adding that she loved her job, her patients and her coworkers.

Going forward, she hopes that Fargo Cass Public Health and the Cass County Jail change their policies.

“I would hope that they would take a look at medical marijuana usage and the positive effects that it has on people and respect that it is a medication prescribed just like any other medication.” she said.

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