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ACLU sues employer in Rhode Island for discrimination against medicinal marijuana user

Earlier this month, the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) of Rhode Island sued Darlington Fabrics, a textile company, because it refused to hire a woman when she disclosed that she used marijuana for medicinal purposes, which is legal in Rhode Island.  The woman, Christine Callaghan, uses marijuana to treat debilitating migraine headaches.  Callaghan claims that she assured representatives of Darlington Fabrics that she would not bring marijuana to work and would not come to work under the influence of marijuana.  Nevertheless, the ACLU’s lawsuit alleges that the company refused to hire her because of her marijuana use even though her marijuana use was legal under state law.

We reported on a similar case that was filed in Maine in 2013.  In that case, the ACLU of Maine sued Adecco when it refused to hire a woman who used marijuana for medicinal purposes.  In connection with that case, the legal director of the ACLU of Maine, Zachary Heiden, said “no patient should be forced to choose between the pain relief she needs to live a normal life and the employment she needs to support her family.  And no employer should be forcing itself into the middle of a decision best made by a patient and her doctor.”

In addition to relying on Rhode Island’s medicinal marijuana law, the ACLU of Rhode Island is arguing that Callaghan’s migraine condition is a disability and Darlington Fabrics’ refusal to hire her because of the medication that she takes for that disability constitutes disability discrimination.  Regarding the lawsuit, Callaghan said “I just want Darlington and other companies in Rhode Island to treat me and other licensed patients the same way they would treat any other employee with a chronic health condition who is taking medication, as the law requires.”

An attorney for the ACLU of Rhode Island said the following about the lawsuit:
“All companies doing business in Rhode Island need to realize that people with disabilities simply cannot be denied equal employment opportunities on the basis of the type of medication required to treat their particular condition.  If employers are permitted to discriminate against those utilizing medical marijuana, then the good work done by those to enact the law will be completely undone.  We cannot let this law become an empty promise.”

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