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Federal Court in Connecticut Rules Workers Can’t Be Denied Jobs for Medical Marijuana Use

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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ruled that a nursing home violated an anti-discrimination provision of the state’s medical marijuana law when it rescinded an employee’s job offer.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 However, when a drug test came back positive for marijuana, the nursing home rescinded her job offer anyway, citing federal law which indicates marijuana is still illegal.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.

Sources:

“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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“The Health Law Firm” is a registered fictitious business name of and a registered service mark of The Health Law Firm, P.A., a Florida professional service corporation, since 1999.
Copyright © 2019 The Health Law Firm. All rights reserved.

Workers Can Be Fired For Using Marijuana Off-Duty

IMG_5571 darken lighten center and skin sofBy Carole C. Schriefer, R.N., J.D., The Health Law Firm

Marijuana may be legal in Colorado, but you can still be fired for using it. Employers’ zero- tolerance drug policies trump Colorado’s medical marijuana laws, the Colorado Supreme Court ruled on Monday. In a 6-0 decision, the Supreme Court ruled that businesses can terminate an employee for the use of medical marijuana – even if it’s off-duty.

Coats v. Dish Network.

Brandon Coats became a quadriplegic after a car accident and has relied on medical marijuana to help with muscle spasms. Dish Network fired Coats after a failed drug test in 2010.  “As a national employer, Dish remains committed to a drug-free workplace and compliance with federal law,” company spokesman John Hall said in a statement.  To read about the Coats v. Dish Network case in its entirety, click here.

What is Lawful Activity?

This case was brought based on Colorado Revised Statute 24-34-402.5, Colorado’s “lawful activities statute.” The Supreme Court held the term “lawful” in the statute refers only to those activities that are lawful under both state and federal law. Therefore, employees who engage in an activity such as medical marijuana use that is permitted by state law but unlawful under federal law, are not protected by this statute.  Like Texas, Colorado law allows employers to set their own policies on drug use.  Unlike Texas, Colorado has a law that says employees can’t be fired for “lawful” off-duty activities.
To read C.R.S. § 24-34-402.5. – Unlawful prohibition of legal activities as a condition of employment, click here.

Legal Off-Duty Activity.

Coats claims that Dish Network violated C.R.S. § 24-34-402.5, by terminating him due to his state licensed use of medical marijuana at home during non-working hours. The Colorado justices ruled that because marijuana is illegal under federal law, Coat’s use of the drug couldn’t be considered legal off-duty activity.  State laws only govern the citizens within a particular state, but federal laws apply to all U.S. citizens. Therefore, federal laws trump state laws.

To read past blogs on this topic or any health law topic, visit our blog pages on our website : www.TheHealthLawFirm.com.

Visit our Colorado Health Law blog.

Comments?

Do you think medical marijuana is considered a “lawful” activity? Do you agree with Dish Network’s decision? Do you think Coats v. Dish Network was a fair case, why or why not? Please leave any thoughtful comments below.

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.

Sources:

Linsley, Brennon. “Colorado court: Workers can be fired for using pot off-duty.” The News Herald. (June 15, 2015) From:

http://www.morganton.com/colorado-court-workers-can-be-fired-for-using-pot-off/article_f4f67447-5d36-5e6e-9a67-8548d5fc77a4.html

“24-34-402.5. Unlawful Prohibition of Legal Activities as a Condition of Employment.” Department of Regulatory Agencies. (June 15, 2015) From:

http://www.colorado.gov/cs/Satellite?blobcol=urldata&blobheadername1=Content-Disposition&blobheadername2=Content-Type&blobheadervalue1=inline%3B+filename%3D%22Colorado+Anti-Discrimination+Act+statutes+-+unofficial.pdf%22&blobheadervalue2=application%2Fpdf&blobkey=id&blobtable=MungoBlobs&blobwhere=1251818317123&ssbinary=true

Coats v. Dish Network, LLC., CO 44. No. 13SC394. U.S. (2015)

About the Author: Carole C. Schriefer is an attorney with 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 Avenue, Altamonte Springs, Florida 32714, Phone: (407) 331-6620. The Health Law Firm also has offices in Fort Collins, Colorado and Pensacola, Florida.

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“The Health Law Firm” is a registered fictitious business name of and a registered service mark of The Health Law Firm, P.A., a Florida professional service corporation, since 1999.
Copyright © 2017 The Health Law Firm. All rights reserved.