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Connecticut Medical Marijuana Law Saves Applicants Who Fail Drug Tests

In Noffsinger v. SSC Niantic Operating Co., LLC, the federal District Court of Connecticut was asked to decide whether federal law precludes enforcement of a Connecticut law that prohibits employers from firing or refusing to hire someone who uses marijuana for medicinal purposes.  The Court concluded the answer was no. Therefore, a person 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.

The plaintiff, Katelin Noffsinger was diagnosed with Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (“PTSD”).  In 2015, she registered with Department of Consumer Protection as a qualifying patient under Protecting Medical Marijuana Users in the Workplace (“PUMA”).  After receiving her registration certificate, she began taking one capsule of a synthetic form of cannabis each night as prescribed.  At the time, she was a recreation therapist.  In July 2016, she was recruited by Bride Brook, a nursing facility, for the position of director of recreational therapy.  She interviewed and was offered the job.  A few days later she was instructed to give notice to her current employer.  A few days after that she met with Bride Brook and disclosed her PTSD, prescription for cannabis, and took a pre-employment drug test.  She was given additional new hire paperwork and told to report for orientation.  The day before plaintiff was scheduled to report for work, the drug testing company called to inform her she tested positive for cannabis.  Later that day, Bride Brook called to inform her that her job offer was rescinded because she tested positive for cannabis.  By that point, Plaintiff’s current employer had already filled her position. 

Among other claims, she brought a cause of action against Bride Brook pursuant to PUMA.  Defendant argued PUMA did not provide for a private cause of action and even if it did her claim was preempted by the Controlled Substances Act (“CSA”), Americans with Disabilities Act (“ADA”), or Federal Food, Drug, and Cosmetic Act (“FFDCA”).  The Court found it was not pre-empted by the CSA because it does not prohibit employers from hiring applicants who may be engaged in illegal drug use.  The ADA prohibits illegal use of drugs and use of alcohol at the workplace which were not the factual circumstances of this case.  Lastly, the FFDCA does not regulate employment whereas PUMA specifically contains an anti-discrimination in employment provision. 

The Court also held there is a private cause of action, in part, because if that was not the law it would have no practical effect as there is no other enforcement mechanism.  Therefore, the Court denied Defendant’s motion to dismiss these issues.  This case serves as a reminder for employers that medicinal marijuana use by employees outside of work has ramifications at work and may well be protected. 

Brody and Associates regularly provides counsel on civil rights issues and employment laws in general.  If we can be of assistance in this area, please contact us at info@brodyandassociates.com or 203.454.0560.