By George F. Indest III, J.D., M.P.A., LL.M., Board Certified by The Florida Bar in Health Law
On December 7, 2018, a federal judge in Connecticut ruled that a nursing home violated an anti-discrimination provision of the state’s medical marijuana law when it rescinded an employee’s job offer. It’s the latest in a series of similar clashes between federal and state laws around the country that came out in favor of medical marijuana users trying to keep or obtain jobs with drug-testing employers. The ruling provided clarification on medical marijuana use under the Connecticut Palliative Use of Marijuana Act (PUMA).
Advocates hope the new decisions are a sign of growing acceptance of marijuana’s medicinal value.
Background of the Case.
The plaintiff was a healthcare worker who was diagnosed with post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) in 2012 after being in a car accident. She notified a potential employer that she qualified under PUMA for her use of medical marijuana to cope with the effects of the accident. However, when a drug test came back positive for marijuana, the nursing home rescinded her job offer anyway, citing federal law which indicates marijuana is still illegal.
The plaintiff sued alleging the nursing home violated PUMA’s anti-discrimination provision. This provision of the law allows qualified patients to use marijuana and prohibits employers from taking adverse employment actions because of the individual’s qualifying status.
Court Grants Summary Judgment.
U.S. District Court Judge Jeffrey Meyer ruled the nursing home discriminated against her based solely on her medical marijuana use was in violation of state law. In doing so, the judge rejected the nursing home’s argument that the federal Drug Free Workplace Act (DFWA) required the nursing center to rescind the plaintiff’s job offer. The court also rejected the nursing home’s argument that the federal False Claims Act (FCA) bars the center from hiring the plaintiff because its employment of someone who uses medical marijuana in violation of federal law would amount to “defrauding of the federal government.” The court stated there is no federal law that bars the center from hiring the plaintiff on account of her medicinal marijuana use outside of work hours.
(We have seen these this type of creative argument made before by both plaintiffs and defendants in litigation arguing that certain actions constitute a violation of the False Claims Act when actually they do not; in this case, the judge failed to be suckered into agreeing with this argument.)
Significance of this Case.
This decision is significant for employers because it clarifies the relationship between federal and Connecticut state laws concerning marijuana use and provides guidelines for drug testing in the employment domain. It indicates that PUMA protects a qualifying patient’s medical marijuana use outside the realm of working hours. The case is now heading to a trial on whether the plaintiff should receive compensatory damages for lost wages from not getting the job.
In this case, there was a strong state law in favor of the employee which allowed the use of medical marijuana. The federal court gave deference to the state law.
Additionally, the decision will likely be used in arguments in similar cases across the county. As this area of the law continues to develop and change, employers should consider reviewing their own drug-related policies and adjust them as necessary.
To read about another case where an employee got fired for using marijuana outside of work, click here to read one of my prior blogs.
Contact Experienced Health Law Attorneys for Medical Marijuana Concerns.
The Health Law Firm attorneys can assist health care providers and facilities, such as doctors, pharmacists and pharmacies, wanting to participate in the medical marijuana industry. We can properly draft and complete the applications for registration, permitting and/or licensing, while complying with Florida law. We can also represent doctors, pharmacies and pharmacists facing proceedings brought by state regulators or agencies.
To contact The Health Law Firm please call (407) 331-6620 or (850) 439-1001 and visit our website at www.TheHealthLawFirm.com.
“New rulings on medical marijuana use go against employers.” The Denver Channel. (December 5, 2018). Web.
Elser, Wilson. “New Ruling on Medical Marijuana in the Workplace Clarifies Connecticut’s PUMA Legislation.” The National Law Review. (December 7, 2018). Web.
About the Author: George F. Indest III, J.D., M.P.A., LL.M., is Board Certified by The Florida Bar in Health Law. He is the President and Managing Partner of The Health Law Firm, which has a national practice. Its main office is in the Orlando, Florida area. www.TheHealthLawFirm.com The Health Law Firm, 1101 Douglas Ave., Altamonte Springs, FL 32714, Phone: (407) 331-6620.
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