Woman sues after losing job in random drug test mix-up $9 million suit names hospital and lab

September 29, 1995|By Kate Shatzkin | Kate Shatzkin,SUN STAFF

Karen Hiebler had been working at a Mars supermarket on Holabird Avenue for 10 years when the company asked her to take a random drug test last fall. No problem, she thought.

Big problem, she found out. The test came back showing a urine sample chock-full of PCP, something the bakery manager insisted she'd never taken in her life. She was fired that day. But five months later, Ms. Hiebler says, she received the results she had expected: A different lab determined through DNA testing that the sample wasn't hers.

In a $9 million lawsuit filed in Baltimore Circuit Court this week, Ms. Hiebler is seeking damages from Church Hospital Corp., where the urine sample was taken, and Laboratory Corp. of America of Herndon, Va., which performed the testing. She alleges that her sample was mishandled, misplaced or misread, causing her to lose her job, to suffer emotional distress and to spend $1,100 to pay for the DNA testing.

Neither Laboratory Corp. of America nor Church Hospital representatives would comment on Ms. Hiebler's allegations yesterday.

"We have no knowledge of a lawsuit, and therefore we have no comment," said Jan Emerick, spokeswoman for Church Hospital. Pamela Sherry, a spokeswoman for Laboratory Corp., said it is company policy, for confidentiality reasons, not even to verify whether it has tested a particular person's sample.

In an interview this week, Ms. Hiebler, a 31-year-old mother of two, described her reaction to the initial results as "stunned, shocked. I panicked, I cried. I knew somebody had made a mistake. I had worked at that job 10 years. I wasn't going to lose it for something I didn't do."

She had the PCP-laden sample sent to Cellmark Diagnostics -- a Germantown lab known for its DNA work in the O. J. Simpson case -- along with a new sample of her urine. Five months later, she said, Cellmark told her that the DNA in the two samples did not match. Shown those results, Mars put her back to work again, Ms. Hiebler said.

Mars representatives did not return a phone call yesterday.

Mars is not named as a defendant in the suit. Ms. Hiebler's lawyer, John Fox, said the company acted reasonably considering the results it was given. And Ms. Hiebler said she is glad to have a similar job at the company again. She is working at a different store.

Private employers nationally had more than 24 million drug tests performed within the past year, said Mark A. de Bernardo, executive director of the Institute for a Drug-Free Workplace in Washington, D.C.

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