On March 11, 2020, the Law Offices of Timothy P. O’Brien and the ACLU of Pennsylvania filed a class action lawsuit against the University of Pittsburgh Medical Center and Allegheny County on behalf of Cherell Harrington, a resident of the county.

In November 2017, Ms. Harrington was admitted to UPMC Magee Women’s Hospital for the birth of her third child. Unbeknownst to her, staff at the hospital tested her urine for drugs, and her results showed an “unconfirmed positive” for marijuana. After the birth of her son on November 29, the hospital staff also tested his urine for drugs, with a negative result. 

On December 1, an employee of the Allegheny County Office of Children Youth and Families visited Ms. Harrington in her hospital room and told her that she was being investigated for child abuse, despite the negative test result for her newborn and no evidence that her other children were in any danger. That investigation led to numerous home visits and a demand by CYF staff that she attend a drug counseling program and complete another drug test.

Another woman, Deserae Cook, was also subjected to a CYF investigation after UPMC falsely informed Allegheny County that Cook had consumed marijuana while pregnant. In fact, Cook told a nurse at UPMC Mercy that she had consumed marijuana in the past but stopped when she learned she was pregnant. Urine drug tests performed on Cook and her baby were negative for any illicit drugs. Cook is a member of the class of women whose rights were violated by UPMC and Allegheny County.

The lawsuit argues that UPMC violated state law protecting patient confidentiality and that both UPMC and the county violated the women’s constitutional rights.


Sara J. Rose of the ACLU of Pennsylvania and Margaret S. Coleman and Timothy P. O’Brien of the Law Offices of Timothy P. O’Brien

Date filed

March 11, 2020


Allegheny County Court of Common Pleas