Employment Discrimination Case Involving Medical Marijuana Dismissed in Pennsylvania

Allegheny County argued that, in addition to the federal prohibition on marijuana, stricter standards apply for prison employees than would be prudent for employees operating in other settings and professions.

Plaintiff Andrew Reed sued the county in October, 2020 alleging wrongful denial of a position as a corrections officer at the Allegheny County jail based on testing positive for marijuana. Plaintiff alleged that an HR representative with the county stated that his medical marijuana use for Reed's medical condition would not pose an issue. According to the complaint, Reed was ultimately passed over for the position because "the legal team couldn't come to a decision on whether to hire him."

In its request for a motion to dismiss, Allegheny County stated that Reed claimed he should have been eligible to request accommodation under the federal Americans with Disabilities Act and the Pennsylvania Human Relations Act. However, his claims were not based on the medical condition that qualified him for a state medical marijuana card but rather solely around the county's alleged job denial based on his use of medical marijuana.

Attorneys on behalf of the county argued that medical marijuana users can be denied employment at the Allegheny County jail per federal prohibition on marijuana in conjunction with the jail's particular role incarcerating individuals accused or convicted of violating drug prohibitions.

In a brief supporting its motion to dismiss, county attorneys argued that "Marijuana is a Schedule 1 'controlled substance' under the Federal Controlled Substances Act. The jail is charged with enforcing the law and holding those behind bars who are charged or convicted with violating the law. This law enforcement agency cannot be in the position to hire employees who are in ... violation of criminal laws."

While Pennsylvania's Medical Marijuana Act states that no employer may discriminate against, fire or refuse to hire an employee solely because of their status as a medical marijuana patient, these were not the reasons Reed was denied the position. "The complaint establishes that the reason Mr. Reed was not hired was not because he had a certification to use medical marijuana, but because he failed a drug test and sought to work in a law enforcement facility that must uphold federal and state crime laws," the brief said.

Employers are encouraged to review federal and state law regarding medical marijuana and how those impact hiring decisions across all business sectors, both public and private.

Posted: February 15, 2021

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