The New Jersey Court of Appeals revived a funeral director’s medical marijuana discrimination suit in Wild v. Carriage Funeral Holdings, Inc., Case No. A-3072-17T3. There, the funeral director was involved in a workplace accident. The director told the hospital that he was authorized to use medical marijuana. The employer fired the funeral director. The funeral director’s supervisor told him it was because of his medical marijuana use but the employer stated that the director was fired because he failed to comply with the Company’s policy which required employees to inform their supervisor if they are taking medications that could alter their ability to perform their duties. The director argued that his termination was unlawful under the State’s discrimination law even though the medical marijuana act did not afford him protection.
The court held that even though New Jersey’s Compassionate Use Medical Marijuana Act does not “require … an employer to accommodate the medical use of marijuana in any workplace,” it does not “immunize an employer’s obligation already imposed elsewhere” — such as in discrimination statutes.
Even though the employer argued that the discrimination law is silent as to whether an employer must accommodate the use of medical marijuana in the workplace, the court focused on New Jersey’s Law Against Discrimination (LAD) (N.J.S.A. 10:5-12(a)), which makes it “unlawful for an employer, because of the … disability … of any individual … to discharge … or to discriminate against such individual … in terms, conditions or privileges of employment.” The court found that the LAD might require the employer to provide an accommodation and, thus, overturned the lower court’s dismissal.
The court also rejected arguments that the Compassionate Use Act and the LAD were in conflict and, instead, found that the Compassionate Use Act does not: (1) create new employment laws; (2) alter existing employment laws; and (3) does not alter or destroy the LAD.
This is a cautionary tale for employers. Employers relying on marijuana statutes to bar medical marijuana use at work should be mindful before taking adverse action against a lawfully registered medical marijuana user. While the appellate court did not rule that the employee was subjected to disability discrimination, it did allow the case to proceed. Further, employers with blanket “no marijuana” or “in compliance with Federal law” policies might consider revising such policies to afford themselves greater protections in States where underlying State discrimination statutes provide pot users protections. For more information on this issue, employers may contact the author directly or contact their favorite Seyfarth Cannabis lawyer.