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Justin Wild, a licensed funeral director, was diagnosed in 2015 with cancer and was prescribed marijuana under the New Jersey Compassionate Use Medical Marijuana Act.
In May 2016 Wild was working a funeral when his vehicle was struck by another vehicle that ran a stop sign. Wild advised a treating doctor at the hospital that he had a license to possess medical marijuana. The doctor concluded it was clear that Wild was not under the influence of marijuana and therefore he would not need to be tested to return to work.
Wild returned to work, but several days later Wild was told that the company was unable to “handle” his marijuana use and that he was “being terminated because they found drugs in your system.” The company wrote Wild a letter stating that he had been terminated not because of his drug use but because he failed to disclose his use of medication that might adversely affect his ability to perform job duties. Plaintiff’s mother later heard a rumor going around that Wild was fired because he was “a drug addict.”
Wild sued his employer, Carriage Funeral Holdings, Inc., alleging that his employer discriminated against him based on disability due to his use of medical marijuana off site. His employer tried to stop the law suit in its tracks by moving to dismiss the case for failure to state a claim upon which relief can be granted. The employer argued that the Compassionate Use Act does not contain employment –related protections, relying on language in the Compassionate Use Act that states, “nothing in this Act shall be construed to require … an employer to accommodate the medical use of marijuana in any workplace.”
Wild countered that this language does not mean that the LAD may not impose its own obligations on the employer. Wild said he was not seeking an accommodation to use marijuana in the workplace, only an accommodation that would allow his continued use of medical marijuana off-site and off work hours.
Wild lost at trial but obtained a reversal in the Appellate Division. On March 10, 2020, the New Jersey Supreme Court affirmed the decision of the Appellate Division, allowing Wild to proceed with his case. The Court held that there is no conflict between the Law Against Discrimination and the Compassionate Use Act. It said, “The Compassionate Use Act does have an impact on plaintiff’s existing employment rights. In a case such as this, in which plaintiff alleges that the Compassionate Use Act authorized his use of medical marijuana outside the workplace, the Act’s provisions may be harmonized with the law governing LAD disability discrimination claims.”
This is the first case in which the New Jersey Supreme Court has addressed the right of an individual who uses medical marijuana to pursue employment litigation for termination of employment due to use of medication outside the workplace. While this case did not arise out of workers’ compensation, the case is instructive to practitioners because there are many injured workers using medical marijuana in New Jersey. This is one of the first decisions on the state’s Compassionate Use Medical Marijuana Act.
John H. Geaney, Esq., is an Executive Committee Member and a Shareholder in Capehart Scatchard's Workers’ Compensation Group. Mr. Geaney concentrates his practice in the representation of employers, self-insured companies, third-party administrators, and insurance carriers in workers’ compensation, the Americans with Disabilities Act and Family and Medical Leave Act. Should you have any questions or would like more information, please contact Mr. Geaney at 856.914.2063 or by e‑mail at firstname.lastname@example.org.