A major precedent has been set by the Massachusetts Supreme Judicial Court. On Monday, July 17, 2017, the court ruled that a woman who had been terminated due to testing positive for marijuana (which was prescribed to her) can sue her former employer for handicap discrimination. The court rejected the former employer’s claim that she could not sue for handicap discrimination due to the fact that medical marijuana is federally an illegal drug.
The employee, Christina Barbuto, had accused Advantage Sales and Marketing of firing her after her first day of work because she had failed the organization’s drug test. She was prescribed medical marijuana to treat low appetite, a side effect of her Crohn’s disease. Chief Justice Ralph Gants argues that if a doctor concludes medical marijuana is the most effective treatment for an employee’s debilitating condition, there should be an exception made to an employer’s drug policy to permit its use as a “facially reasonable accommodation.”
The unanimous six-judge ruling explained that only the employee, and not the organization could have been subject to prosecution under federal law for her drug use. Matthew Fogelman, Barbuto’s attorney, deemed the decision “groundbreaking.” “This is the highest court in Massachusetts recognizing that the use of medically prescribed marijuana is just as lawful as the use of any prescribed medication,” noted Fogelman.
Employers should keep a “pulse” on this type of case as it is only a matter of time before it spreads to other states that have passed medicinal and recreational marijuana laws.