Employer loses suit after refusing to hire medical marijuana user for internship

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Dive Brief:

  • A Rhode Island Superior Court judge ruled against a local fabrics company after a woman alleged the business refused to hire her for an internship due to her use of medical marijuana, The Providence Journal reports. 
  • An unsuccessful applicant to a 2014 summer internship with Darlington Fabrics Corp. alleged the company violated Rhode Island's medical marijuana law, which prohibits discrimination in employment. Lawyers for the employer argued that the law did not give individuals who felt discriminated against "a private right of action" to sue. Darlington also said the law forces it to condone an act the federal government maintains as illegal.
  • The judge in the case sided with the plaintiff, saying the law does imply a private right of action. The text of the ruling said the plaintiff did not properly distinguish between nonmedical and medical use of marijuana, and that the private actions of an individual do not impose responsibility on an employer.

Dive Insight:

This case is a reminder of the thorny issue of drug testing in hiring. Some employers have complained that stringent legal requirements make skills gaps worse, due to the amount of talent denied jobs upon receiving positive test results.

The much larger development of medical marijuana laws challenges legal systems and employers alike. It's widely accepted that employees should refrain from any form of drug use that would impair their ability to complete the essential functions of a job, even in states where the recreational marijuana use is legalized.

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But are employers allowed to place the same restrictions on medical marijuana use? That is the case in California, where a recent vote gave employers the authority to restrict use even in medical cases. Compliance officers will have to pay close attention as marijuana makes it way onto more state ballots in coming years.

The Darlington case is expected to go to the state's supreme court.

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