Over at In the Weeds, our Firm’s blog on the developments in cannabis law, my colleague Joseph McNelis shares a breaking development at the intersection of cannabis law and employment discrimination law. This legal intersection poses a complicated series of questions, requiring courts to weigh the illegality of cannabis under federal law with state laws that authorize medical marijuana use (which themselves sometimes contain provisions prohibiting workplace discrimination on the basis of an employee’s state-authorized use of medical marijuana). As Joe notes, a recent decision by the United States District Court for the District of Connecticut, Noffsinger v. SSC Niantic Operating Company, LLC, addresses precisely this issue.
In July, 2016, the plaintiff in this case applied for and accepted a job offer from a health and rehabilitation center. Several years prior, she had been diagnosed with post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) after experiencing a car accident. On the recommendation of a provider, she began using medical marijuana under Connecticut’s state-authorized medical marijuana program to treat her PTSD symptoms in 2015. The case recites what happened after the plaintiff accepted the job:
Plaintiff and [employer’s administrator] agreed that a follow-up visit would take place on July 25 for the completion of pre-employment papers, background check, and drug screen. At this follow-up meeting, plaintiff disclosed to [the administrator] her PTSD diagnosis and her participation in Connecticut’s medical marijuana program. She explained that she took prescription marijuana in the evenings as a “qualifying patient” under [Connecticut’s medical marijuana statute] and showed [the administrator] her registration certificate and an empty pill container which displayed her name and dosage of her medical marijuana pills.
When the plaintiff subsequently tested positive for THC, a chemical component of marijuana, the employer rescinded the job offer. The plaintiff then sued under Connecticut’s medical marijuana law, which contains anti-discrimination language:
[U]nless required by federal law or required to obtain funding: . . . (3) No employer may refuse to hire a person or may discharge, penalize or threaten an employee solely on the basis of such person’s or employee’s status as a qualifying patient . . . Nothing in this subdivision shall restrict an employer’s ability to prohibit the use of intoxicating substances during work hours or restrict an employer’s ability to discipline an employee for being under the influence of intoxicating substances during working hours.
Notably, the Court rejected each of the employer’s arguments and granted summary judgment to the plaintiff in this case–although it rejected her claims for attorneys’ fees and punitive damages.
For more details on the case and items for employers to consider in a situation like this, check out Joe’s post. And for more general background information on states’ legalization of marijuana and how that can impact the workplace, check out our Firm’s recently published Resource Guide.