One of the more quickly evolving issues of law and society is marijuana. Marijuana, just a few decades ago, was something seen as only a harmful recreational drug and people associated its users with the stereotype of the lazy “stoner.” Today, it has begun being embraced for multiple therapeutic uses. In New Jersey, marijuana is legal if you’re using it for a medical purpose. So, what should you do if your employer punishes, or fires, you for using medical marijuana that your doctor prescribed for you?
The use of medical marijuana is not explicitly protected by the Law Against Discrimination. Does that mean that, if your employer took an adverse action against you that you can’t possibly have a case for employment discrimination? As one recent case ruling from the Appellate Division highlights, the answer to that is, “No, it doesn’t.” In other words, don’t give up; instead, consult a knowledgeable New Jersey employment attorney to find out how you may be able to recover compensation.
That recent case involved J.W., a funeral director at a North Jersey funeral home. J.W. used marijuana as part of his cancer treatment and held a license to use under New Jersey’s Compassionate Use Act.
The employer eventually discovered the funeral director’s marijuana use. J.W. reportedly disclosed it to an emergency room doctor following an accident J.W. had while driving one of the employer’s vehicles. The accident was not the funeral director’s fault – the other driver ran a stop sign – but the employer nevertheless terminated his employment. At first, J.W. was told it was “because of ‘drugs,’” although a letter from the corporate office asserted it was due to his failure to disclose of his use of medical marijuana.
The funeral director sued for disability discrimination. The trial court ruled in favor of the employer, but the Appellate Division recently issued a decision in J.W.’s favor, reversing that lower court outcome and reviving the funeral director’s case.
Marijuana users entitled to the same anti-discrimination protections as other NJ employees
The appeals court explained that, to advance a case of disability discrimination based on medical marijuana use in New Jersey, the discriminated employee must proceed like any other disability discrimination plaintiff, as the Compassionate Use Act did not grant any special employment rights to medical marijuana users. In other words, an employee who uses medical marijuana must assert that he was disabled or was perceived to be disabled by his employer, that the employee remained capable of performing the essential job functions at a level satisfactory to the employer, and that the employer took its adverse action due to the employee’s disability (or, at least, would not have taken that action but for the disability.)
That, according to the appeals court, was exactly what this funeral director alleged in his complaint. The employer argued that it did not know about the funeral director’s disability but, as the court questioned, how could it have fired J.W. because of drugs or because of his non-disclosure of the medication if it did not know about it?
In ruling for this funeral director, the appeals court clearly stated that, just because the Compassionate Use Act did not impose any additional obligations on employers, that language in the law did not mean that employers were “immunized” from meeting their obligations imposed by other laws, like the Law Against Discrimination, simply because the employee with a disability was someone who used medical marijuana. In other words, medical marijuana users were not entitled to any more protection in the workplace than other workers, but they were also entitled to no less protection, either.
Whether or not your disability requires you to treat with medical marijuana, disability discrimination in the workplace is a very real problem. If you have suffered due to this kind of improper and illegal treatment, reach out to the knowledgeable New Jersey employment attorneys at Phillips & Associates. Contact us online or at (609) 436-9087 today to set up a free and confidential consultation and to find out how we can help.