Navigating state medical marijuana laws isn’t getting any easier.
A federal court recently ruled on whether rescinding a job offer to a medical marijuana user was discrimination due to a state law. Here’s what happened:
Katelin Noffsinger accepted a job offer from SSC Niantic Operating Co. LLC (dba Bride Brook Health & Rehabilitation Center) as Activities Manager pending drug testing.
Noffsinger told the hiring manager that she had a medical marijuana license under the Connecticut Palliative Use of Marijuana Act (PUMA) for post-traumatic stress disorder she suffered after a car crash.
When the drug test came back positive for marijuana, Bride Brook rescinded the job offer. Noffsinger sued, alleging a violation of PUMA’s anti-discrimination provision which says:
“Unless 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 … “
Bride Brook argued the federal Drug Free Workplace Act barred it from hiring Noffsinger because it’s a federal contractor. The DFWA requires federal contractors to make a good faith effort to maintain a drug-free workplace.
But a federal district court found the DFWA doesn’t require drug testing, nor does it prohibit federal contractors from employing someone who uses medical marijuana outside the workplace in accordance with a state-approved program.
“That [Bride Brook] has chosen to utilize a zero tolerance drug testing policy in order to maintain a drug free work environment does not mean that this policy was actually required by federal law or required to obtain federal funding,” the court wrote.
Bride Brook tried a few other arguments, but all were rejected by the court. “There is no legitimate dispute that defendant’s rescinding of plaintiff’s job offer was contrary to plaintiff’s right not to be subject to discrimination because of her status as a qualifying patient under PUMA,” the court wrote.
(Note: In a previous ruling leading up to this one, the same federal court ruled PUMA’s anti-discrimination provision isn’t preempted by federal law.)
This case is notable because it undercuts previous conventional wisdom that federal contractors didn’t have to allow off-duty use of medical marijuana. That’s the lesson learned from this ruling, according to attorney Fiona Ong at Shawe Rosenthal.
However, not all state medical marijuana laws provide this sort of employment protection. As more cases are heard by courts, the results are likely to vary.
And this still doesn’t change the fact that, under federal DOT rules, employees can’t drive commercial motor vehicles (or perform several other safety-sensitive transportation functions) if a drug test turns up positive for marijuana.