March 15, 2018 Top Story

Trend in Medical Marijuana Suits Favors Employees

Employers walk a fine line between new laws and existing obligations

By C. Thea Pitzen

In three cases last year, courts have ruled in favor of medical marijuana users in suits against employers. ABA Section of Litigation leaders caution that employers should take note of this emerging trend in employment litigation.

Recent Decisions Favor Employees

In May, a Rhode Island Superior Court held that Rhode Island’s medical marijuana act created an implied private right of action and that an employer had violated the act when it refused to hire a medical marijuana user. In July, the Supreme Judicial Court of Massachusetts held that while the Massachusetts medical marijuana act did not create a private cause of action, failure to accommodate an employee’s use of medical marijuana might run afoul of the state’s Fair Employment Practices Law. Most recently, in August, the U.S. District Court for the District of Connecticut held that Connecticut’s medical marijuana statute did create an implied private right of action and was not preempted by any federal law, including the Controlled Substances Act. The federal court largely denied the defendant employer’s motion to dismiss, explaining that “a plaintiff who uses marijuana for medicinal purposes in compliance with Connecticut law may maintain a cause of action against an employer who refuses to employ her for this reason.”

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