Rhode Island Supreme Court Decision Could Have Broad Impact

(Summer 2017) The Rhode Island Supreme Court made a recent decision that could affect not only employers in Rhode Island but could open the doors in other states. At the heart of the Callaghen vs. Darlington Fabrics Corporation case is the provision within the Rhode Island Medical Marijuana Act that prohibits an employer from refusing to hire solely based on the applicant being a registered card holder.


In this case, the applicant explained during the hiring process that she was a card holder was currently using marijuana, and would test positive in a pre-employment drug screening.  The company shared with her that not being able to pass the test “would prevent the Company from hiring her” and in a call subsequent to that exchange, announced they were unable to hire her.


The court found that while state law prevents an employer from making hiring decisions based on medical marijuana card holder status and does not require an employer to accommodate medical use of marijuana in any workplace, the statute does in some way, require employers to accommodate the medical use of marijuana outside the workplace.


Had the court found in favor of the company (which it did not) it would have placed the applicant, who would test positive due to her routine medical marijuana use, in a worse position than a recreational user who could stop smoking long enough to pass the drug test and get hired.  The patient could not stop using long enough to pass the drug test even though her use was necessary to “treat or alleviate pain, nausea, and other symptoms associated with certain debilitating conditions.”


The court also sided with the applicant on the discrimination elements of her case related to Rhode Island’s Civil Rights Act which protects against all forms of employment discrimination, including disability.  Since the applicant was clearly suffering from a “debilitating medical condition” in order to qualify for the medical marijuana card the court’s reasoning is that she then qualifies as disabled under the law.


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