This week a federal judge in Connecticut held that an employer violated a medical marijuana user’s rights when it refused to hire her due to a positive drug test. The woman uses medical marijuana, which is legal in Connecticut, to treat her post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD). The woman sued the employer under a state law that prohibits employment discrimination against medical marijuana users.
The employer argued that it had to refuse to hire the woman because it is a federal contractor subject to the requirements of the Drug Free Workplace Act (DFWA). The court held that the DFWA requires employers to make a “good faith effort” to maintain a drug free workplace but it does not require drug testing. The court also held that the DFWA does not prohibit a federal contractor from employing someone who uses illegal drugs outside of the workplace.
The employer next argued that the federal False Claims Act (FCA) prohibits it from employing someone who uses marijuana. The court rejected this argument because no federal law prohibited the employer from employing someone who uses medical marijuana outside of work.
The employer also argued that Connecticut state law prohibits discrimination against someone because of their status as an approved medical marijuana patient and not because they use marijuana. The court rejected this absurd argument reasoning that if the law permitted employers to discriminate against someone for using marijuana, but not because of their status as an approved medical marijuana user, the law would be a nullity.
This decision is clearly a victory for people who favor the use of medical marijuana. The fact that the employer in this case was a federal contractor is particularly important. Employers who want to discriminate against medical marijuana users typically argue that federal law prohibits them from employing marijuana users and that federal law preempts state law. Federal contractors are subject to more federal legal requirements than other employers. So, if this preemption argument did not work for a federal contractor, it may be even tougher for an employer that is not a federal contractor to win with that argument.