Health care worker Katelin Noffsinger told a potential employer that she took medical marijuana to deal with the effects of a car accident, but when a drug test came back positive, the nursing home rescinded her job offer anyway. A federal judge last month ruled that the nursing home, which had cited federal laws against pot use, violated an anti-discrimination provision of the Connecticut’s medical marijuana law. It was the latest in a series of clashes between U.S. 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.
Paul Armentano, deputy director of NORML, a pro-marijuana group, stated that, “this decision reflects the rapidly changing cultural and legal status of cannabis, and affirms that employers should not be able to discriminate against those who use marijuana responsibly while off the job, in compliance with the laws of their state”. Noffsinger sued Bride Brook Health & Rehabilitation Center in Niantic in 2016. She had been offered, and accepted, a job as recreation therapy director at the nursing home, contingent on her passing a drug test. She told the nursing home that she took synthetic marijuana pills – legally under state law and only at night – to treat the post-traumatic stress disorder she developed after the 2012 car accident. But the company rescinded the job offer after the drug test came back positive for THC.
On Sept. 5, U.S. District Judge Jeffrey Meyer in New Haven ruled Bride Brook discriminated against Noffsinger based solely on her medical marijuana use in violation of state law. He denied her request for punitive damages. The case is now heading to a trial on whether Noffsinger should receive compensatory damages for lost wages from not getting the job. In his ruling, Meyer said the federal Drug Free Workplace Act, which many employers including federal contractors rely on for policies on drug testing, does not actually require drug testing and does not prohibit federal contractors from employing people who use medical marijuana outside the workplace in accordance with state law.
The American Bar Association called the Connecticut, Massachusetts and Rhode Island cases “an emerging trend in employment litigation” and cautioned employers to consider state medical marijuana laws when analyzing their drug use and testing policies. Several bills are pending before Congress that would undo marijuana’s classification as a controlled substance with no medicinal value. But Armentano, of NORML, said it is unlikely they will go anywhere while Republicans control Congress. Some employers, though, have dropped marijuana from the drug tests they require of employees, saying the testing excludes too many potential workers in a challenging hiring environment.
Frank T. Luciano has been representing people accused of marijuana related issues for over 40 years. He is a lifetime member of the legal committee for the National Organization for the Reform of Marijuana Laws (NORML) and has been a member of the National Association of Criminal Defense Attorney’s for many years. He is familiar with bail/detention procedures in Bergen (Hackensack), Passaic (Paterson) and Hudson (Jersey City) Counties.