Federal Court Rules that Employer Violated CT Law by Refusing to Hire Medical Marijuana User

September 17, 2018

In August 2017, a federal court in Connecticut found the State's Palliative Use of Marijuana Act (PUMA) created a private cause of action for employment discrimination and that PUMA’s anti-discrimination provision is not preempted by federal law (which still provides that use of marijuana is unlawful). That same court has now found PUMA protection for applicants or employees after testing positive for lawful use of marijuana. With the evolving state of the law on the issue, we recommend all employers have SESCO review drug testing and related policies and practices to ensure compliance.

To briefly recap the facts of the case, the defendant offered the plaintiff, Katelin Noffsinger, a job contingent on her passing a drug test. Ms. Noffsinger told the defendant she was qualified under PUMA to use medical marijuana to treat her post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD). Predictably, Ms. Noffsinger failed her drug test, and the defendant rescinded the job offer.

The court granted summary judgment in favor of Ms. Noffsinger on her employment discrimination claim under PUMA. The parties did not dispute that Ms. Noffsinger was offered a job by the defendant-employer and that the offer was ultimately rescinded because of a positive drug test result. Also undisputedwas the fact that the positive drug test stemmed from Ms. Noffsinger’s use of medical marijuana pursuant to her qualifying status under PUMA to treat her PTSD.

The employer’s arguments failed to persuade the court that Ms. Noffsinger’s claim should be dismissed. For example, the court rejected the employer’s position that as a federal contractor, the Drug-Free Workplace Act (DFWA) barred it from hiring Ms. Noffsinger, finding that the employer was not required by federal law to impose a zero-tolerance drug policy, but simply chose to do so. Accordingly, the court rejected the employer’s argument that hiring someone like Ms. Noffsinger who uses medical marijuana during off-hours would violate the DFWA.

In addition, because the court found that there is no federal law barring an employer from hiring Ms. Noffsinger on account of her medicinal use of marijuana outside of work, the court summarily rejected the employer’s argument that hiring her would violate the Federal False Claims Act.

Finally, the court rejected the employer’s argument that PUMA prohibits discrimination only on the basis of one’s status as an approved medical marijuana patient but not on account of one’s use of medical marijuana in accordance with a PUMA program. The court found that this argument was illogical because the very purpose of seeking PUMA qualified status is to use medical marijuana as permitted under PUMA.