New Jersey: Positive Drug Test Not Enough In Disability Discrimination

Recently, the New Jersey Supreme Court ruled that an employee who was fired after revealing that he used medical marijuana outside of work for his cancer treatment has a basis to sue for disability discrimination under the New Jersey Law Against Discrimination (“NJLAD”).

The decision balances the employee’s rights under the NJLAD and New Jersey’s former Compassionate Use of Medical Marijuana Act. The Act states that it does not require employers to accommodate an employee’s use of medical marijuana in the workplace. New Jersey amended its medical marijuana law in July of 2019, allowing formal protections for employees and job applicants who use “medical cannabis.”

The case at issue is Wild v. Carriage Funeral Holdings, Inc.. Justin Wild, a funeral director, had been diagnosed with cancer. His physician prescribed medical marijuana to alleviate pain. Wild was later involved in a car crash while at work, on duty. His employer required him to take a drug test, which returned positive. Wild alleged in his complaint that he was being terminated because of the positive drug test, yet his termination letter advised that he was terminated for failure to disclose his use of medical marijuana – which may adversely affect his ability to perform his duties – in violation of company policy.

Wild filed a disability discrimination suit under the NJLAD. The trial court granted the employer’s motion to dismiss deciding that the Compassionate Use Act did not contain employment-related protections for licensed users of medical marijuana.

The trial court further held that Wild’s positive drug test constituted a legitimate business reason for his termination because marijuana remains illegal under federal law.

The Appellate Division reversed and concluded that Wild had a disability that qualified his medical marijuana use. They opined that although the Compassionate Use Act did not “require” employers to accommodate an employee’s use of medical marijuana, it did not affect an employer’s obligation under the NJLAD to reasonably accommodate an employee’s disability – including an employee’s off-duty medical marijuana use. The court found that the Act neither created new employment rights nor destroyed existing employment rights, having no impact on NJLAD.

The Supreme Court affirmed, holding that that the former Compassionate Use Act did have an impact on employment rights in two scenarios. One – employers are not required to accommodate use of medical marijuana in any workplace; and two – employees are not permitted to operate, or be in control of, any vehicle, aircraft, heavy equipment, or vessel while under the influence of marijuana.

This information has been prepared by Validity Screening Solutions for informational purposes only and is not legal advice. The content is intended for general information purposes only, and you are urged to consult a lawyer concerning your own situation and any specific legal questions you may have.