Federal Ruling Demonstrates Difficulty of Medical Marijuana Law for Employers
HARTFORD, CT — A federal district court in Connecticut recently ruled in favor of a job applicant after an employer refused to hire her because she tested positive for marijuana in a pre-employment drug test.
The Sept. 5 decision serves as a reminder to employers in Connecticut, which now has nearly 28,000 medical marijuana patients, to evaluate their policies and practices concerning employee use of marijuana outside the workplace.
According to the complaint, Katelin Noffsinger accepted a job offer as activities manager from Bridge Brook Health & Rehabilitation Center.
But the offer was contingent on drug testing.
Noffsinger claimed that her doctors recommended she use medical marijuana (specifically, a synthetic form of marijuana, Marinol) for her post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD). She was using medical marijuana as a result of ramifications from a car accident.
The employer, a government contractor, extended to the plaintiff a job offer contingent on her passing a pre-employment drug test.
Noffsinger notified the employer that she was a registered medical marijuana user who took Marinol, but only at night before bed so she would not be impaired at work.
The employer withdrew the job offer after the plaintiff’s pre-employment drug test revealed a positive result for THC, a chemical component of marijuana.
Noffsinger sued, alleging the employer violated the Connecticut Palliative Use of Marijuana Act’s (PUMA) anti-discrimination provision, which states:
“[U]nless required by federal law or required to obtain funding: … 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.”
After the drug test came back positive for THC consistent with the use of marijuana, the job offer was rescinded - the day before she was scheduled to start her job.
According to Noffsinger’s lawsuit, she was offered and accepted the offer of a position at Bridge Brook, a government contractor, in July of 2016. After being offered the job, Noffsinger, the suit said, told her interviewer that she took prescription marijuana as a “qualifying patient” and she showed her registration certificate to her interviewer.
On Aug. 1, 2016, two days before Noffsinger was supposed to start work, a compliance officer for the defendant said because Noffsinger tested positive she “will be disqualified” from the job because medical marijuana is not an approved prescription by federal law and that Bridge Brook uses “the federal law which indicates marijuana is still illegal.”
The next day, Aug. 2, 2016 - again the day before Noffsinger was supposed to start working, she received a voice message saying the job offer was rescinded.
Three weeks later, Noffsinger sued.
In his ruling U.S. District Court Judge Jeffrey Meyer said, in part: “There are no genuine fact issues in dispute about why plaintiff’s job offer was rescinded, and there is no legitimate dispute that defendant’s rescinding of plaintiff’s job offer was contrary to plaintiff’s right not be to subject to discrimination because of her status as a qualifying patient.”
The amount of compensatory damages to be paid has yet to be determined.
Meanwhile, the state’s medical program keeps growing.
The Department of Consumer Protection (DCP) announced that a medical marijuana brand database is now available to the public through Connecticut Open Data. The database will include medical marijuana brands registered with DCP complete with name, manufacturer, image of the label, image of the medication, dosage type, and strengths.
“We are proud of how our program has grown to help nearly 28,000 patients, and now we have another tool available to support patients, physicians, and law enforcement,” said Consumer Protection Commissioner Michelle H. Seagull, “We are committed to continuing the growth of our program thoughtfully, and providing more resources for the public along the way.”
The database of medical marijuana products can be accessed here.
The Department of Labor is also trying to make sure employers are aware of the laws governing medical marijuana use.
At 9 a.m., Oct. 18 the Labor Department is holding a workshop to discuss the workplace issues and dilemmas that may be encountered in striking the right balance between employer policies and the use of medical marijuana as permitted by Connecticut law.
With nearly 28,000 of Connecticut’s residents currently using medical marijuana to help with specific debilitating conditions, “this can be an increasingly-complicated issue for employers that want to support their employees, but have concerns about complying with existing law,” Stephen Lattanzio, an attorney with the Labor Department’s Office of Program Policy, said. “This workshop offers employers and organizations the opportunity to obtain first-hand knowledge and ask questions in an informal environment.”
There are currently 30 medical conditions for adults, and six conditions for those under 18 that make someone eligible for medical marijuana treatment in Connecticut.