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In 2014, the Rhode Island American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) filed suit against a Westerly fabrics company on behalf of Christine Callaghan, who claimed she was discriminated against by the company for her participation in the state’s medical marijuana program. On Tuesday, Rhode Island Superior Court Justice Richard Licht ruled in favor of Callaghan, a decision which upholds the state law that bars discrimination of medical marijuana card holders in matters of employment, and confirms that the law applies to job applicants such as Callaghan.
The 2014 lawsuit was filed by ACLU volunteer attorney Carly Beauvais Iafrate on behalf of Callaghan, a graduate of Savannah College of Art and Design in Atlanta, Georgia. At the time of the lawsuit’s filing, Callaghan was studying textiles and working toward a master’s degree in that field at the University of Rhode Island. She had participated in the state’s medical marijuana program for nearly two years in an effort to treat frequent, debilitating migraine headaches, and had applied for a paid internship at Darlington Fabrics Company in Westerly. According to the lawsuit, Callaghan was initially offered the position, but the offer was rescinded when the company was made aware of her medical status, despite Callaghan’s promise to not bring any marijuana onto the business’ premises nor consume any marijuana before coming into work.
“As a result of not being hired, the lawsuit argued, Callaghan ‘was unable to find replacement summer employment, lost the benefit of a major networking opportunity with one of the only companies left in Rhode Island in her field, lost an important and unique experience that defendants were offering, was forced to disclose her medical marijuana status to her professors, and her ability to graduate on time was placed into jeopardy as a result of having to try to find another internship at the last minute,’” a press release from the ACLU detailing the Tuesday decision reads.
In Justice Licht’s ruling, Darlington Fabrics Company had discriminated against a medical marijuana patient because of, or in relation to, their status as a medical marijuana user and/or cardholder, a violation of the Rhode Island Civil Rights Act and the state’s medical marijuana law, which prohibits discrimination based on cardholder status in matters of employment.
“This practice would place a patient who, by virtue of his or her condition, has to use medical marijuana once or twice a week in a worse position than a recreational user,” said Justice Licht’s ruling. “The recreational user could cease smoking long enough to pass the drug test and get hired . . . allowing him or her to smoke recreationally to his or her heart’s content. The medical user, however, would not be able to cease for long enough to pass the drug test, even though his or her use is necessary to ‘treat or alleviate pain, nausea, and other symptoms associated with certain debilitating medical conditions.’”
The judge also ruled against the company’s defense that Callaghan was not discriminated against based on a matter of disability, but instead solely for her marijuana use, stating that he would not separate medical marijuana use from the symptoms that constitute its consumption.
“This distinction breaks down upon further examination,” Justice Licht’s ruling reads. “Defendants essentially ask this Court to completely separate the medical condition from the treatment, which would circumvent the broad intent of RICRA. However, the only reason a given patient cardholder uses marijuana is to treat his or her disability. This policy prevents the hiring of individuals suffering disabilities best treated by medical marijuana.”
The judge further acknowledged that the company was not legally bound to accommodate medical marijuana use in the workplace.
“I would like to thank the ACLU and Carly for representing me in this matter, as without their aid I would have had no recourse,” said Callaghan in a statement. “I am also thankful to Judge Licht for upholding my right to take medicine without fear of losing or being denied a job.”
“This decision sends a strong message that people with disabilities simply cannot be denied equal employment opportunities because of the medication they take,” a statement from the ACLU attorney reads. “If employers were permitted to discriminate against those using medical marijuana, then the good work done by those to enact the law will be completely undone. The judge’s decision makes clear that this law is not an empty promise.”
Story Source: The above story is based on materials provided by THE NARRAGANSETTTIMES
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