Pennsylvania State Court Dismisses Student Discrimination Complaint Regarding Terms of Mandatory Drug Testing

A PA court denied a registered nursing student's claim requesting exemption from a Pennsylvania-based community college drug testing requirement due to her medical issues for which she was prescribed medical marijuana.

Harrisburg Area Community College (HACC) rejected a student's request to be excused from a mandatory drug test conducted by the school's nursing program. The policy requires that students who test positive to a urine-based drug test be ejected from the program. The student contended that she should be excused from the requirement because she maintains a prescription for medical marijuana. Following the school's refusal, the student filed a discrimination complaint with the Pennsylvania Human Relations Commission.

The case reached the Commonwealth Court of Pennsylvania on appeal. In late October 2020, the Commonwealth ruled in favor of HACC and ordered that the woman's complaint be dismissed. The court determined that a nursing student cannot avoid drug testing even if the student has a prescription for medical marijuana.

The law permits punishment of medical marijuana users who pose a public health or safety risk while under the influence of the substance. Judge Patricia A. McCullough explained that "this provision would clearly apply to intensive care unit nurses or other nurses who are under the influence of medical marijuana while on the job or in training."

Following the decision, the judges urged the Legislature to revisit the law regarding medical marijuana and address gaps and review associated consequences. The judges noted that the central problem with the Medical Marijuana Act (MMA) is that when it was passed, the Pennsylvania Human Relations Act (PHRA) and the Pennsylvania Fair Education Opportunities Act (PFEOA) were not amended to mandate accommodations for individuals who have been legally prescribed medical marijuana. Judge Anne E. Covey pointed out that this creates an issue because even though one may be authorized to use medical marijuana under the MMA, the individual will still face potential employment and education consequences due to PHRA and PFEOA preclusions. Additionally, marijuana remains illegal under federal law, which further complicates the situation.

Pennsylvania employers are encouraged to review internal hiring protocols regarding drug testing to ensure that processes are in alignment with the terms of the MMA.

Posted: November 11, 2020

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