Connecticut Appellate Court Rules Employer Could Discharge Medical Marijuana User Impaired On The Job

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Ogletree, Deakins, Nash, Smoak & Stewart

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Ogletree Deakins is a labor and employment law firm representing management in all types of employment-related legal matters. Ogletree Deakins has more than 850 attorneys located in 53 offices across the United States and in Europe, Canada, and Mexico. The firm represents a range of clients, from small businesses to Fortune 50 companies.
On March 19, 2024, the Connecticut Appellate Court upheld an employer's right to discharge an employee for being impaired on the job from medical marijuana under a state law...
United States Cannabis & Hemp
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On March 19, 2024, the Connecticut Appellate Court upheld an employer's right to discharge an employee for being impaired on the job from medical marijuana under a state law that provides employment protections for qualified medical marijuana users.

Quick Hits

  • The Connecticut Appellate Court upheld the discharge of an employee who was a qualified medical marijuana user because she was impaired at work.
  • The appellate court rejected arguments that the employer discriminated against her due to her medical marijuana use.

In Bartolotta v. Human Resources Agency of New Britain, Inc., the Connecticut Appellate Court affirmed summary judgment in favor of a nonprofit educational facility that discharged a preschool teaching assistant with epilepsy after she admitted to being impaired while at work as a result of her medical marijuana use.

The teaching assistant had filed a discrimination lawsuit alleging, among other things, that the facility violated her rights under Connecticut's Palliative Use of Marijuana Act, which provides job protections to qualified users of medical marijuana.

Background

Human Resources Agency of New Britain, which maintained drug-free workplace policies, discharged Alyssa Bartolotta, following an investigation into her potential impairment on the job, which involved working with children.

According to the decision, Bartolotta, who has suffered from epilepsy her entire life, did not inform the facility of her condition when she was hired in February 2018, nor did she disclose her medical marijuana prescription. Due to her condition, she has "on average, one 'bad' seizure a month," which the facility learned after she experienced her first seizure on the job.

After an incident in January 2019, in which the teacher called a student by the wrong name and admitted to another employee that it was due to her still feeling the effects of her medical marijuana, the facility opened an investigation. During the investigation the teaching assistant informed the facility that she had a prescription for medical marijuana and presented her medical marijuana card.

According to the decision, one employee stated that she had "observed the plaintiff 'to be forgetful, droopy, and unsteady on her feet,'" and another employee said that the teacher had confided in him that she used medical marijuana.

Palliative Use of Marijuana Act

In affirming summary judgment in favor of the employer, the appellate court rejected arguments that the facility violated the Palliative Use of Marijuana Act, which prohibits employers from discharging or penalizing an employee "solely on the basis of such person's or employee's status as a qualifying" medical marijuana user.

The decision by Judge Nina Elgo found that the reason provided to the teaching assistant for her discharge was her admitted impairment from medical marijuana use while on the job. Further, the appellate court pointed out that the facility never told the teaching assistant that she could not use medical marijuana, but had informed the plaintiff that she could not be impaired while at work due to safety concerns with the children.

Key to the appellate court's decision was the provision in the Palliative Use of Marijuana Act that states "[n]othing in [the law] shall restrict an employer's ability to prohibit the use of intoxicating substances during work hours or restrict an employer's ability to discipline an employee for being under the influence of intoxicating substances during work hours."

"The plain import of that provision confirms that, while the palliative use of marijuana is authorized under Connecticut law, employers nonetheless may prohibit qualifying patients from being under its influence in the workplace," the decision stated.

Disability Discrimination

Regarding an accommodation for medical marijuana use, the court found that the teaching assistant never made a clear request for such an accommodation, and even if she had, "it is unclear what—if any—accommodation the defendant could make with respect to the plaintiff's use of medical marijuana short of allowing her to appear impaired in the workplace."

"To the extent that the plaintiff is suggesting that the defendant should permit her to disregard the directions on her medical marijuana prescription to allow her (1) to use it during the workday or (2) to appear at the facility in an impaired state, she has provided no legal authority that supports that bold proposition," the court said.

Key Takeaways

Connecticut is one of a growing number of states to enact employment protections for medical marijuana users. The Connecticut Appellate Court ruling is reassuring for employers in the state of Connecticut as it demonstrates that the Palliative Use of Marijuana Act does not require employers to allow qualified users to be impaired while on the job and that a discharge due to such impairment does not violate the act.

Central to the decision were facts that the employee in question had admitted to being impaired and that other employees witnessed her impairment. Additionally, the employer had maintained policies prohibiting drug use in the workplace and the employee held a job where there were legitimate safety concerns with children.

Employers in Connecticut may want to review their workplace policies to ensure that they prohibit employees from using drugs at work or being under the influence of drugs while on the job.

To learn more about workplace drug policies and medical marijuana, please join us at Ogletree Deakins' national Workplace Strategies program, which will feature a breakout session entitled "Medical Marijuana 201: A Disability Accommodation Workshop." This annual seminar, which will be held May 1–4, at the historic Washington Hilton in Washington, D.C. is the premier event of its kind for sophisticated HR professionals, in-house counsel, and other business professionals.

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.

Connecticut Appellate Court Rules Employer Could Discharge Medical Marijuana User Impaired On The Job

United States Cannabis & Hemp

Contributor

Ogletree Deakins is a labor and employment law firm representing management in all types of employment-related legal matters. Ogletree Deakins has more than 850 attorneys located in 53 offices across the United States and in Europe, Canada, and Mexico. The firm represents a range of clients, from small businesses to Fortune 50 companies.
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