NJ Supreme Court to Consider Cannabis in the Workplace

The Supreme Court of New Jersey recently agreed review the Appellate Division’s decision in Justin Wild v. Carriage Funeral Holdings, Inc. d/b/a Feeny Funeral Home, LLC. The case involves whether the protections afforded by the New Jersey Law Against Discrimination extend to medical cannabis users.

NJ Supreme Court to Consider Cannabis in the Workplace

Facts of the Case

Plaintiff Justin Wild sued his former employer, defendant Carriage Funeral Holdings, Inc. (Carriage), under the NJLAD. The suit alleges that the unlawful discrimination arose from Wild’s use of medical marijuana, permitted by the Compassionate Use Act, as part of his cancer treatment.

In 2013, Wild began working for Carriage as a licensed funeral director. In May 2016, while working a funeral, a vehicle he was driving was struck by a vehicle that ran a stop sign. Sustaining injuries, Wild was taken by ambulance to a hospital emergency room. At the hospital, plaintiff advised a treating physician that he had a license to possess medical marijuana. The physician responded that “it was clear [plaintiff] was not under the influence of marijuana, and therefore no blood tests were required.”

Carriage learned of Wild’s medical marijuana use following the accident. Wild informed his employer that he used marijuana to alleviate his cancer pain, but only did so during non-work time. Carriage required Wild to take a blood test prior to returning to work. Wild appeared for a blood test and explained that he would test positive because of the prescribed marijuana and pain killers he was prescribed following the accident. 

In a June 3, 2016 letter, Carriage advised Wild he was being terminated. The letter stated that the reason was not Wild’s marijuana use, but his failure to disclose his use of medication, which might adversely affect his ability to perform his job duties. According to a Carriage policy, “employees must advise their immediate supervisor if they are taking any medication that may adversely affect their ability to perform assigned duties safely.”

Wild subsequently filed suit. Among other allegations, Wild claimed Carriage could not lawfully terminate his employment without violating the NJLAD, despite the results of his drug test, because he had a disability (cancer) and was legally treating that disability, in accordance with his physician’s directions and in conformity with the Compassionate Use Act. In granting defendants’ motion to dismiss, the trial judge determined that the Compassionate Use Act “does not contain employment-related protections for licensed users of medical marijuana” and, in accepting plaintiff’s own allegations, the adverse employment action was taken due to a positive drug test and a violation of Carriage’s drug use policy.

Appellate Division’s Decision

The Appellate Division reversed. “[W]e reject the essential holding that brings this matter here and conclude that the Compassionate Use Act’s refusal to require an employment accommodation for a user does not mean that the Compassionate Use Act has immunized employers from obligations already imposed elsewhere,” Judge Clarkson Fisher Jr. wrote. “It would be ironic indeed if the Compassionate Use Act limited the Law Against Discrimination to permit an employer’s termination of a cancer patient’s employment by discriminating without compassion. We reverse.”

In reaching its decision, the Appellate held that the Compassionate Use Act’s refusal to require an employment accommodation for a medical marijuana user does not mean that the Compassionate Use Act has immunized employers from obligations already imposed under other statutes, such as the NJLAD. Judge Fisher explained:

The Compassionate Use Act neither created new employment rights nor destroyed existing employment rights; it certainly expressed no intent to alter the LAD. Just as the Compassionate Use Act imposes no burden on defendants, it negates no rights or claims available to plaintiff that emanate from the LAD.

Issues Before New Jersey Supreme Court

The New Jersey Supreme Court has agreed to consider the following question:

Does the New Jersey Compassionate Use Medical Marijuana Act — which declares that “nothing” in the Compassionate Use Act “require[s]” an employer to accommodate a medical marijuana user, N.J.S.A. 24:6I-14 — preclude a claim by an employee against an employer based on, among other things, the Law Against Discrimination?

The court has not yet scheduled oral arguments in the case. 

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