United States: Positive No More: Rhode Island Employers Need To Think Twice Before Denying Employment Based On A Positive Drug Test

In a recently issued trial court decision, Callaghan v. Darlington Fabrics Corp., a Rhode Island Superior Court justice held that an employer could not deny employment to an applicant licensed under state law to possess and consume medical marijuana solely because the applicant would be unable to pass a mandatory pre-employment drug test. The decision, which granted the applicant summary judgment against the employer, recognizes—for the first time in Rhode Island—a private right of action for medical marijuana "cardholders" to seek damages for discrimination on account of their status as medical marijuana patients by schools, landlords, and employers. Employers with Rhode Island operations may want to reevaluate their drug testing procedures going forward as a result of this decision.

Factual Background

The case arose after the defendant, Darlington Fabrics Corporation, rescinded a paid internship in July of 2014 to the plaintiff, Christine Callaghan, a graduate student, after Callaghan disclosed she was a medical marijuana cardholder. Callaghan made the disclosure during a pre-employment meeting with the company's human resources coordinator who informed her she would need to take a pre-employment drug test. During a follow-up conference call, Callaghan informed the coordinator that she currently used medical marijuana because she was allergic to most other pain medications and that she would need to continue using it during her internship.  Though she would likely test positive for marijuana on her pre-employment drug test, Callaghan stated she would not bring marijuana to work or come to work under its influence.

Citing company policy that all new hires must pass a pre-employment drug screen, the coordinator later informed Callaghan that the company could not proceed with her internship.  With the assistance of the American Civil Liberties Union of Rhode Island, Callaghan filed suit against the company for rescinding her internship under the state's Edward O. Hawkins and Thomas C. Slater Medical Marijuana Act (Hawkins-Slater Act), which regulates the licensure and use of medical marijuana, as well as the Rhode Island Civil Rights Act of 1990, which makes it illegal to discriminate on the basis of disability, among other bases.

The Court's Analysis

Central to Callaghan's case were two provisions of the Hawkins-Slater Act, which state that "[n]o school, employer, or landlord may refuse to enroll, employ, or lease to, or otherwise penalize, a person solely for his or her status as a cardholder" and "[n]othing in this chapter shall be construed to require ... [a]n employer to accommodate the medical use of marijuana in any workplace." At summary judgment, the company argued, among other points, that Callaghan's suit was improper because the Hawkins-Slater Act did not provide an express, private right of action, unlike other state civil rights statutes. The company also argued that federal law—particularly the Drug Free Workplace Act of 1988—preempted the Hawkins-Slater Act's protections for cardholders. In response to Callaghan's disability discrimination claim, the company pointed to language in an analogous state disability statute that expressly disclaimed protection for disability accommodations based on illegal drug use, noting that medical marijuana is still illegal under federal law, to argue that the Rhode Island General Assembly did not intend for the state's Civil Rights Act to protect those engaged in drug use that is still illegal under federal law.

Looking closely at the legislative history behind the Hawkins-Slater Act's passage and applying traditional principles of statutory interpretation to fill in gaps in the law's provisions, the court granted summary judgment to Callaghan with respect to her Hawkins-Slater Act claims. The court noted that there was no express enforcement mechanism in the Act for protecting cardholders against discrimination by schools, employers, or landlords, and, therefore, the General Assembly must have intended for there to be a private right of action to fill that void. The court also found no conflict between the Act's protections for cardholders and federal laws applicable to the workplace because the Act expressly protected employers from having to accommodate drug use "in" the workplace. Accordingly, the court found no preemption issue, and based on the facts, the company's decision to rescind Callaghan's internship based on her cardholder status was ruled a violation of the Hawkins-Slater Act.

The court also denied summary judgment for the company with respect to Callaghan's Rhode Island Civil Rights Act claim in part because the language relied on by the company, which was found in an analogous civil rights statute for people with disabilities and expressly denied protection for remedies that involved the use of illegal drugs, did not appear in the statute that Callaghan filed suit under. The court presumed that the General Assembly knew the present legal landscape and that if it did not want the Civil Rights Act to afford protection to certain disabled individuals due to their illegal drug use, the General Assembly would have inserted appropriate language to address that. 

Since Callaghan did not move for summary judgment on her Rhode Island Civil Rights Act claim, it remains pending for trial. The company's counsel has indicated that it intends to appeal the court's ruling to the Rhode Island Supreme Court, but any appeal will need to wait until Callaghan's Civil Rights Act claim is adjudicated.

Key Takeaways

Though this is a lower court decision that is likely to be appealed, it is still a wake-up call to employers with Rhode Island employees to rethink their procedures for drug testing applicants and current employees. Depending on how the state supreme court rules, a positive drug test, particularly for marijuana, may no longer be automatic grounds for denying employment or requiring a current employee to seek rehabilitation. Employers may want to reevaluate their Rhode Island drug testing procedures to ensure, absent a contrary ruling from the state supreme court, that they provide exceptions for cardholders going forward. 

The content of this article is intended to provide a general guide to the subject matter. Specialist advice should be sought about your specific circumstances.

To print this article, all you need is to be registered on Mondaq.com.

Click to Login as an existing user or Register so you can print this article.

In association with
Related Topics
Related Articles
Related Video
Up-coming Events Search
Font Size:
Mondaq on Twitter
Register for Access and our Free Biweekly Alert for
This service is completely free. Access 250,000 archived articles from 100+ countries and get a personalised email twice a week covering developments (and yes, our lawyers like to think you’ve read our Disclaimer).
Email Address
Company Name
Confirm Password
Mondaq Topics -- Select your Interests
 Law Performance
 Law Practice
 Media & IT
 Real Estate
 Wealth Mgt
Asia Pacific
European Union
Latin America
Middle East
United States
Worldwide Updates
Registration (you must scroll down to set your data preferences)

Mondaq Ltd requires you to register and provide information that personally identifies you, including your content preferences, for three primary purposes (full details of Mondaq’s use of your personal data can be found in our Privacy and Cookies Notice):

  • To allow you to personalize the Mondaq websites you are visiting to show content ("Content") relevant to your interests.
  • To enable features such as password reminder, news alerts, email a colleague, and linking from Mondaq (and its affiliate sites) to your website.
  • To produce demographic feedback for our content providers ("Contributors") who contribute Content for free for your use.

Mondaq hopes that our registered users will support us in maintaining our free to view business model by consenting to our use of your personal data as described below.

Mondaq has a "free to view" business model. Our services are paid for by Contributors in exchange for Mondaq providing them with access to information about who accesses their content. Once personal data is transferred to our Contributors they become a data controller of this personal data. They use it to measure the response that their articles are receiving, as a form of market research. They may also use it to provide Mondaq users with information about their products and services.

Details of each Contributor to which your personal data will be transferred is clearly stated within the Content that you access. For full details of how this Contributor will use your personal data, you should review the Contributor’s own Privacy Notice.

Please indicate your preference below:

Yes, I am happy to support Mondaq in maintaining its free to view business model by agreeing to allow Mondaq to share my personal data with Contributors whose Content I access
No, I do not want Mondaq to share my personal data with Contributors

Also please let us know whether you are happy to receive communications promoting products and services offered by Mondaq:

Yes, I am happy to received promotional communications from Mondaq
No, please do not send me promotional communications from Mondaq
Terms & Conditions

Mondaq.com (the Website) is owned and managed by Mondaq Ltd (Mondaq). Mondaq grants you a non-exclusive, revocable licence to access the Website and associated services, such as the Mondaq News Alerts (Services), subject to and in consideration of your compliance with the following terms and conditions of use (Terms). Your use of the Website and/or Services constitutes your agreement to the Terms. Mondaq may terminate your use of the Website and Services if you are in breach of these Terms or if Mondaq decides to terminate the licence granted hereunder for any reason whatsoever.

Use of www.mondaq.com

To Use Mondaq.com you must be: eighteen (18) years old or over; legally capable of entering into binding contracts; and not in any way prohibited by the applicable law to enter into these Terms in the jurisdiction which you are currently located.

You may use the Website as an unregistered user, however, you are required to register as a user if you wish to read the full text of the Content or to receive the Services.

You may not modify, publish, transmit, transfer or sell, reproduce, create derivative works from, distribute, perform, link, display, or in any way exploit any of the Content, in whole or in part, except as expressly permitted in these Terms or with the prior written consent of Mondaq. You may not use electronic or other means to extract details or information from the Content. Nor shall you extract information about users or Contributors in order to offer them any services or products.

In your use of the Website and/or Services you shall: comply with all applicable laws, regulations, directives and legislations which apply to your Use of the Website and/or Services in whatever country you are physically located including without limitation any and all consumer law, export control laws and regulations; provide to us true, correct and accurate information and promptly inform us in the event that any information that you have provided to us changes or becomes inaccurate; notify Mondaq immediately of any circumstances where you have reason to believe that any Intellectual Property Rights or any other rights of any third party may have been infringed; co-operate with reasonable security or other checks or requests for information made by Mondaq from time to time; and at all times be fully liable for the breach of any of these Terms by a third party using your login details to access the Website and/or Services

however, you shall not: do anything likely to impair, interfere with or damage or cause harm or distress to any persons, or the network; do anything that will infringe any Intellectual Property Rights or other rights of Mondaq or any third party; or use the Website, Services and/or Content otherwise than in accordance with these Terms; use any trade marks or service marks of Mondaq or the Contributors, or do anything which may be seen to take unfair advantage of the reputation and goodwill of Mondaq or the Contributors, or the Website, Services and/or Content.

Mondaq reserves the right, in its sole discretion, to take any action that it deems necessary and appropriate in the event it considers that there is a breach or threatened breach of the Terms.

Mondaq’s Rights and Obligations

Unless otherwise expressly set out to the contrary, nothing in these Terms shall serve to transfer from Mondaq to you, any Intellectual Property Rights owned by and/or licensed to Mondaq and all rights, title and interest in and to such Intellectual Property Rights will remain exclusively with Mondaq and/or its licensors.

Mondaq shall use its reasonable endeavours to make the Website and Services available to you at all times, but we cannot guarantee an uninterrupted and fault free service.

Mondaq reserves the right to make changes to the services and/or the Website or part thereof, from time to time, and we may add, remove, modify and/or vary any elements of features and functionalities of the Website or the services.

Mondaq also reserves the right from time to time to monitor your Use of the Website and/or services.


The Content is general information only. It is not intended to constitute legal advice or seek to be the complete and comprehensive statement of the law, nor is it intended to address your specific requirements or provide advice on which reliance should be placed. Mondaq and/or its Contributors and other suppliers make no representations about the suitability of the information contained in the Content for any purpose. All Content provided "as is" without warranty of any kind. Mondaq and/or its Contributors and other suppliers hereby exclude and disclaim all representations, warranties or guarantees with regard to the Content, including all implied warranties and conditions of merchantability, fitness for a particular purpose, title and non-infringement. To the maximum extent permitted by law, Mondaq expressly excludes all representations, warranties, obligations, and liabilities arising out of or in connection with all Content. In no event shall Mondaq and/or its respective suppliers be liable for any special, indirect or consequential damages or any damages whatsoever resulting from loss of use, data or profits, whether in an action of contract, negligence or other tortious action, arising out of or in connection with the use of the Content or performance of Mondaq’s Services.


Mondaq may alter or amend these Terms by amending them on the Website. By continuing to Use the Services and/or the Website after such amendment, you will be deemed to have accepted any amendment to these Terms.

These Terms shall be governed by and construed in accordance with the laws of England and Wales and you irrevocably submit to the exclusive jurisdiction of the courts of England and Wales to settle any dispute which may arise out of or in connection with these Terms. If you live outside the United Kingdom, English law shall apply only to the extent that English law shall not deprive you of any legal protection accorded in accordance with the law of the place where you are habitually resident ("Local Law"). In the event English law deprives you of any legal protection which is accorded to you under Local Law, then these terms shall be governed by Local Law and any dispute or claim arising out of or in connection with these Terms shall be subject to the non-exclusive jurisdiction of the courts where you are habitually resident.

You may print and keep a copy of these Terms, which form the entire agreement between you and Mondaq and supersede any other communications or advertising in respect of the Service and/or the Website.

No delay in exercising or non-exercise by you and/or Mondaq of any of its rights under or in connection with these Terms shall operate as a waiver or release of each of your or Mondaq’s right. Rather, any such waiver or release must be specifically granted in writing signed by the party granting it.

If any part of these Terms is held unenforceable, that part shall be enforced to the maximum extent permissible so as to give effect to the intent of the parties, and the Terms shall continue in full force and effect.

Mondaq shall not incur any liability to you on account of any loss or damage resulting from any delay or failure to perform all or any part of these Terms if such delay or failure is caused, in whole or in part, by events, occurrences, or causes beyond the control of Mondaq. Such events, occurrences or causes will include, without limitation, acts of God, strikes, lockouts, server and network failure, riots, acts of war, earthquakes, fire and explosions.

By clicking Register you state you have read and agree to our Terms and Conditions