Medical Marijuana and Disability Discrimination in New York
New York City Attorneys Protecting the Rights of Employees
In New York, medical marijuana users may be protected against workplace discrimination for lawfully using cannabis under state law. However, employers may prohibit marijuana use at work and may prohibit impaired employees from reporting to work. Enforcing employment discrimination rules related to medical marijuana use can be challenging because marijuana can appear on employment drug tests long after it stops being impairing. In March 2020, New Jersey’s top court issued a ruling protecting a cancer patient who failed an employment drug test due to medical marijuana. A New York court might decide similarly if it heard parallel claims brought under the New York City Human Rights Law. Workers with concerns about medical marijuana and disability discrimination should consult the New York City disability discrimination lawyers at Phillips & Associates.
Medical Marijuana and Disability Discrimination
In the recent New Jersey Supreme Court case, Justin Wild v. Carriage Funeral Holdings, a cancer patient was prescribed marijuana by his doctor. He got in to a car accident on the job, but he was not under the influence at the time, and he did not cause the accident. He told his employer about the medical marijuana. His employer drug-tested him and terminated him when the test came back positive. He sued, claiming discrimination under the New Jersey Law Against Discrimination (NJLAD), which prohibits discrimination based on a disability. While the lower court ruled against him, the intermediate appellate court and the New Jersey Supreme Court agreed with him that there was no conflict between the Compassionate Use Act and the NJLAD. He had stated a valid claim of disability discrimination under the New Jersey Law Against Discrimination, based on using medical marijuana during his off-hours to help treat his cancer symptoms.
The New York City Human Rights Law is likely to provide similar relief for people who work in the City and need to take medical marijuana for a medical condition. Recently, in Brouillard v. Sunrun, Inc., the New York Supreme Court dealt with a lawsuit which sought to recover damages for disability discrimination under the New York State Human Rights Law (NYSHRL) and the New York City Human Rights Law.
According to the plaintiff’s complaint, the defendant employer gave him a job as a sales consultant. At the time of the job offer, he suffered from a range of chronic pain conditions, including congenital bilateral dislocated patellas. His claimed that these conditions left him disabled.
The employer drug-tested him before he started the job. The employer told him a few days after he took the test that he had tested positive for marijuana. He told the employer that he had a prescription for medical marijuana because of chronic pain, and he gave the defendant a Medical Marijuana Program Registry Identification Card and related documents to show that his marijuana use was lawful. Nevertheless, the job offer was rescinded. The employee brought a lawsuit for disability discrimination under state and local laws.
The defendant argued that it had decided to rescind the job offer before knowing about the plaintiff’s status as a medical marijuana user. It asked the court to dismiss the plaintiff’s claims. The defendant also argued that possessing the medical marijuana card did not count as a disability, and because the defendant had not failed to hire the applicant because of another qualifying disability, the plaintiff’s claim under the city law should also be dismissed.
Disability Discrimination Claim Under State Law
The court agreed with the defendant that the plaintiff had failed to state a cause of action for disability discrimination under the NYSHRL. It reasoned that the complaint would only state a prima facie case of disability discrimination under this law if it alleged that the plaintiff suffered from a disability, and the disability caused the behavior for which he was subjected to discrimination in the terms and conditions of his employment. However, a disability needs to be a condition that would not stop the employee from performing the essential job duties in a reasonable manner, if he were given reasonable accommodations. In this case, there were no facts set forth that showed that the plaintiff could perform the essential job functions despite his disability.
Disability Discrimination Claim Under City Law
However, the court denied the defendant’s motion to dismiss the cause of action for disability discrimination under NYCHRL. The definition of “disability” under the city law does not include “reasonable accommodation.” Disability under the city law is defined only in terms of impairments. The court found that there was a valid claim for disability discrimination under the city law. Even though the city might not recognize possession of a medical marijuana card as a disability, the complaint did not only allege that the disability arose from possessing a medical marijuana card but also described specific chronic pain conditions.
Retain a Knowledgeable Disability Discrimination Attorney
If you have faced an issue involving medical marijuana and disability discrimination, Phillips & Associates may be able to help. Our attorneys fight for workers with disabilities in Manhattan, the Bronx, Queens, Staten Island, and Brooklyn, as well as Westchester, Nassau, and Suffolk Counties. Call us at (866) 229-9441 or contact us through our online form for a free consultation with an employment discrimination lawyer.
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