New Jersey Supreme Court affirms protections for employees using medical marijuana

Wild v. Carriage Funeral Holdings, Inc., (A-91-18) (082836) (March 10, 2020)

By Kegan S. Andeskie, Esq., on March 13, 2020

 

On March 10, 2020, the New Jersey Supreme Court issued a long-awaited decision, affirming that an employee may state a claim under the New Jersey Law Against Discrimination (“NJLAD”) based on disability discrimination and/or failure to accommodate for the use of medical marijuana under the Compassionate Use Act.

Justin Wild (“Wild”) was employed by Defendant Carriage Funeral Holdings (“Carriage”) as a licensed funeral director.  In 2015, he was prescribed marijuana under the Compassionate Use Act after being diagnosed with cancer.  In 2016, following a motor vehicle accident occurring while Wild was working a funeral, Wild informed a treating physician that he was licensed to possess medical marijuana.  Concluding that it was clear that Wild was not under the influence at the time of the accident, the physician determined that no blood tests for marijuana were required.  Carriage then terminated Plaintiff several days later for failure to disclose his medical marijuana use, advising Plaintiff that “they found drugs in your system.”  Wild alleged that he later learned of a rumor in the local funeral industry that he was fired for being a “drug addict.”

Wild then filed suit under the NJLAD, claiming that Carriage could not lawfully terminate his employment without violating the NJLAD.  The Trial Court granted Carriage’s motion to dismiss, finding no employment-related protections under the Compassionate Use Act based on Wild’s medical marijuana use.

The Appellate Division reversed, observing that while the Compassionate Use Act did not require an employer to accommodate medical marijuana use in any workplace, it did not preclude the LAD from imposing such an obligation, “particularly when the declination of an accommodation to such a user relates only to use ‘in any workplace.”’ 458 N.J. Super. 416, 433-34 (App. Div. 2019).

The New Jersey Supreme Court then granted certification, issuing its opinion affirming the Appellate Division’s ruling on March 10, 2020.  The Court held that Plaintiff’s disability claim derived from his assertion that, outside the workplace, he lawfully used medical marijuana prescribed to him for medical treatment and pain management.  Based on those allegations, the Supreme Court found that Wild stated a cause of action, stressing the Compassionate Use Act’s “provisions may be harmonized with the law governing LAD disability discrimination claims.”  The Court declined, however, to adopt the Appellate Division’s view that “the Compassionate Use Act intended to cause no impact on existing employment rights.”  Id. at 428.  Rather, the Court noted that the Compassionate Use Act does have an impact on employees’ existing employment rights, to the extent any such claims under the LAD do not involve marijuana use in the workplace, or while operating a vehicle or heavy equipment while under the influence of marijuana (both of which are expressly excluded from the protections of the Compassionate Use Act).

Employers can take away from this decision the important point that, as a result of the Compassionate Use Act, employees can seek accommodation for the lawful use of medical marijuana outside the workplace, and that such accommodations are protected under the NJLAD.

The case is Wild v. Carriage Funeral Holdings, Inc., 25-1-4022 (March 10, 2020).  The full opinion is available here.

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