Noffsinger v. SSC Niantic Operating Company, LLC Update
For the last year or so, healthcare worker Katelin Noffsinger has been proceeding forward with a case against a former potential employer regarding her use of medical marijuana to deal with the effects of a car accident. As many know, Ms. Noffsinger informed her potential employer of this use ahead of a company mandated drug test. When a drug test came back positive, the nursing home rescinded her job offer anyway. As a result, Ms. Noffsinger brought an employment discrimination suit against SSC Niantic Operating Company, LLC, alleging the denial of employment based on positive cannabis result during a pre-employment screening test in violation of Connecticut’s Palliative Use of Marijuana Act (PUMA). The Federal District Court of Connecticut previously denied the defendant’s motion to dismiss for failure to state a claim. The court held that any person who used marijuana for medicinal purposes in compliance with Connecticut law may maintain a cause of action against a potential employer who refused to employ them for this reason.
Because there were no factual issues in dispute regarding liability, in September of this year, Judge Jeffrey Meyer held that the defendant’s actions violated an anti-discrimination provision of Connecticut’s medical marijuana law and granted summary judgment to Ms. Noffsinger on her PUMA claim. Judge Meyer did deny the plaintiff’s request for punitive damages and the case will proceed to trial (or possible settlement) regarding whether Ms. Noffsinger is entitled to receive compensatory damages for lost wages.
This decision is the first ruling of its kind in a federal case and follows similar rulings against employers by state courts in Massachusetts and Rhode Island. You will recall from our previous blog posts that many employments cases ruled in favor of the employer, not the medical cannabis user.
In his ruling, Judge Meyer noted that the federal Drug Free Workplace Act, which many employers reference and rely upon for drug testing policies, does not actually require drug testing and does not prohibit federal contractors from employing people who use medical marijuana outside the workplace in accordance with state law.
While this decision is further good news for individuals who currently use medical marijuana for treatment of various ailments, Connecticut is among the minority of states that specifically ban employment discrimination against medical marijuana users. As of the date of this writing, there are only nine states that ban employment discrimination based upon medical cannabis use. Arizona, Delaware, Minnesota, and Nevada prevent employers from taking adverse actions against their employees based on an individual’s status as a medical cannabis user cardholder unless not doing so would violate federal laws or regulations or if such an accommodation would cause an employer to lose a monetary or license-related benefit under federal law. New York, Connecticut, Illinois, Maine, and Rhode Island also have similar laws prohibiting discrimination based on an individual’s use of medical cannabis.